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Date: Sat, 12 Feb 1994 23:43:09 -0500 (EST)
From: Peter Byrne Manchester <PMANCHESTER@ccmail.sunysb.edu>
Subject: NYTimes review Febr. 94
New York Times, Sect. 2 (Arts and Leisure), Sunday, February 6, 1994, p. 24.
Two Sisters In Song... Of Sorts
by Peter Galvin
When Tori Amos burst onto the pop scene last year with her album "Little Earthquakes," critics were hard pressed to find a label to describe the singer's exceedingly personal, exuberantly melodic music. Was it pop, folk or rock? Was Ms. Amos a musical earth daughter tapping into the primordial emotions of the human heart or just some crackpot offering the most self-absorbed brand of feminist spiritualism? Regardless of the many critical opinions Ms. Amos's arrival engendered, the one thing almost everyone agreed on was that she sounded a lot like Kate Bush.
Listening to both artists' new albums, Ms. Bush's "Red Shoes: and Ms. Amos's "Under the Pink," one easily hears the similarities between the two singer-songwriters. Both have high, frilly voices capable of conveying girlish insouciance, pouting allure and shrieking madness; both write piano-based melodies heavily influenced by the emotional sweep of classical music and the drama and bombast of opera; and both possess a keenly imaginative romantic sensibility that challenges patriarchal notions of love, sex and religion. But Ms. Bush is more of a musical philosopher than Ms. Amos, divining meaning from her experience and giving it universal scope. Ms. Amos's songs are like psychological case studies, providing listeners with a vicarious catharsis rather than any actual insight into existence.
Emerging in 1978 amid the abrasive anarchy of the British punk movement, Ms. Bush's debut album, "The Kick Inside," as a musical anomaly, what with its heady art-rock arrangements, baroque vocals and grandiloquent literary allusions. Subsequent albums found Ms. Bush experimenting with musical textures through the use of synthesizers, multilayered vocals and world-music instrumentation. Ms. Bush was seeking increasingly complex ways to express the landscape of consciousness and the soul's connection to God and the supernatural world.
On "The Red Shoes" (Columbia 53737; CD and cassette), Ms. Bush, 35, is in a wiser, less breathlessly romantic mode. Gone is the grandiose mysticism of songs like "Wuthering Heights" and "Running up That Hill." Instead, Ms. Bush's quest for meaning is more earthbound, concentrating on the pangs of the heart and the joys of the flesh. In the breakup ballad, "You're the One," Ms. Mush places the listener firmly in the real world as she sings to her ex-lover, "It's all right, I'' come 'round when you're not in/ And I'll pick up all my things."
In the Eastern-flavored "Eat the Music," Ms. Bush connects sex with food, imagining herself a piece of fruit; "Split me open/ With devotion," she demands jubilantly. The music, too, is much more intimate than on her past efforts. Ms. Bush no longer sounds as if she's addressing the heavens; her vocals now rarely reach their former ear-piercing levels.
The album's title track, based on Michael Powell's 1948 movie of the same name, illustrates the tragedy that can result when dreams and reality collide. An aspiring dancer puts on a pair of red shoes and dances herself to death to the furious sound of lute and zither. Another song about fate, the funk-driven "Why Should I Love You?," a track Ms. Bush wrote and recorded with Prince, contemplates the spiritual forces that conspire to bring two lovers together.
Ms. Amos is less concerned with what brings two lovers together than what happens to them when they connect. On the affecting "Little Earthquakes," the singer sang of her sexual awakening at the hands of men who were interested only in her body and who lorded their power over her as if it was sent straight from God. Elsewhere on "Earthquakes," Ms. Amos detailed her disillusionment with religion and the pain of forging an identity in a world that wants you to be something you're not. The songs melded Ms. Amos's melodies with studio touches like sampled keyboards and strings, expertly giving the singer's passionate songs their due.
On "Under the Pink" (Atlantic 82567; CD and cassette), Ms. Amos, 30, refines her cabaret-meets-classical style, almost completely forgetting the use of guitars and drums. Instead, she interprets her melodies mainly with her piano, which she plays to gorgeous effect.
The singer is in a less confrontational mode on "Pink." Indeed, the only song in which Ms. Amos actually confronts an oppressor head on is also the most studio-enhanced: on "God," the singer taunts the Creator for being sloppy and lazy, with sampled screeches giving the track a predatory quality. Yet, as on "Earthquakes," Ms. Amos continues to use her personal experience to challenge religious and sexual conventions. In "Icicle," she sings about masturbating in her room while her family is downstairs saying their prayers.
Unfortunately, the singer seems a bit strapped for provocative subject matter on "Pink." Many of the lyrics are frustratingly oblique, as if Ms. Amos is trying to hide the fact that she doesn't have much to say this time around. Because the impact of her music depends so much on her confessional approach, the third-person, observational stance of several of the songs on "Pink" renders them emotionally flat.
Perhaps now, having seemingly exorcised many of her personal demons, Ms. Amos will turn her gaze outward, translating what she sees and feels into a more universal vision. After all, it works for Kate Bush.
Peter Galvin is an associate editor of Interview magazine.
<Photos: KB from right side in ETM dress, head turned toward camera.
Credit: Anthony Crickmay/Columbia Records
TA from hips, fitted leather blouse, belt, hands joined below it.
Credit: Cindy Palmano/Atlantic Records
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"The pull and the push of it all..." - Kate Bush
Marvick - Hill
Willker - Mapes
Grepel - Love-Hounds