Tori Amos: Little Earthquakes

I’m going to guess that this is still the most recognized Tori Amos album and also probably, on balance, the overall favorite because of its broad appeal.  However, she’s progressed so far since this album that I think I tend to discount it from her discography as much as most discount Y Kant Tori Read.  It’s not bad, it’s just so young, so…debut album.  I can’t listen to it and not compare it to the rest of her catalog, hearing its warts.  The most piano-heavy of her albums it also has most of the songs people associate with Amos: “Crucify,” “Silent All These Years,” and “Winter.”  It’s the album where she introduced herself to most listeners and so remains a lot of her social definition.

I don’t want to belabor this point too much, but I didn’t think the album had warts in 1992.  I loved it as much as everybody else.  It’s only with hindsight informed by what would follow that this has suffered a few dings in reputation in my mind.  Still, it’s those dings I’m going to focus on, not because it’s a reflection of how I really feel about the album as a whole, but because everything else has all been said.

First, the lyrics.  Especially on the first half of the album.  It reads like a first-year college seminar on Women’s Studies.  I’m sure these lyrics were revelatory to Amos at the time and they clearly touched a chord with many fans, but they seem so obvious to me.  “Girl,” “Silent All These Years,” “Crucify”…these songs all cover themes that aren’t normally covered not because of the patriarchy, I would argue, but just because they’re not all that interesting.  (As a disclaimer, I realize big chunks of the world’s men aren’t as open to women’s issues even as much as I am, which is probably not as much as I should be, but still, I find these a little yawny on the ideas front.)  The line “Boy you best pray that I bleed real soon” is an exception.  Very powerful.  There are some other great lyrics, too, like on “Tear In Your Hand” and “Precious Things,” it’s just that so many of the early songs seem obvious and so many of the later tracks are too abstruse.

Second, the second half.  “Happy Phantom,” “Leather,” “Mother.”  Fine songs, but pretty weak in the grand scheme of things.  On their own I’d think nothing of them.  The only reason I pay any attention to them is that they’re on a good album.

Third, “Me And A Gun.”  I can’t listen to this song.  It’s too raw.  And I know that’s where its power comes from, and I’m not being critical of it…this is obviously a very meaningful song…it’s just not one I can listen to.  I mean, if this were a scene in a movie, it would make the movie X-rated and I wouldn’t be able to watch that either.

Rating:
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Keep: “Crucify,” “Girl,” “Silent All These Years,” “Precious Things,” “Winter,” “Tear In Your Hand”
Like: “Happy Phantom,” “China,” “Leather,” “Mother,” “Little Earthquakes”
Filed Between: Amos’ Y Kant Tori Read and Other Rarities [Bootleg] and Winter single
Song Notes: Below the jump… Continue reading

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Seaweed: Spanaway

By 1995 grunge was played out unless you were a frat boy or Bush.  In this environment, grunge’s progenitors, Seaweed among them, needed to re-invent, likely out of both personal motivation and a desire not to get thrown into the dustbin along with the rapidly fading trend.  (Incidentally, the only “grunge” bands I can think of that managed this transition successfully were Pearl Jam, who were always more classic rock-ish anyway; Melvins, who have reinvented themselves every few years; and Mudhoney, who basically just stayed the course.)

Seaweed flounders for a musical voice here, in that it’s not really all that easy to hear where they fit, besides hard, driving rock.  There’s nothing wrong with not being able to be pigeonholed; the point is that they’re branching out in varied ways.  And successfully.  Pretty much all of these songs are really good.

The problem with this album, and it’s an unavoidable one, is that things are mixed so loud, with so much high-end, that it’s an absolutely fatiguing listen.  By the time you get to the seventh track, whose title of “Undeniable Hate” alone wears me out, it’s really hard to do anything but hunch yourself up and brace for the oncoming onslaught.  Things come down very nicely a couple of tracks later for “Assistant (To The Manager),” but by that point you’re already worn out.  The album’s last four tracks are a mishmash of two of its highlights (“Not Saying Anything,” probably the best track, and “Last Humans,” which is almost impossible to appreciate after so much constant loud) and two noise experiments (“Punchy (The Clown)” and “Peppy’s Bingo”).  Other highlights are “Magic Mountainman” and “Defender,” the latter of which seems to foreshadow the TSA with its lyrics about what sounds like a border check and “waiting for hours and hours.”

In short: good songs, some new compositional styles that are generally successful, and fatiguing sound.

Rating:
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-“Free Drug Zone,” “Crush Us All,” “Start With,” “Common Mistake,” “Magic Mountainman,” “Saturday Nitrous,” “Defender,” “Assistant (To The Manager),” “Not Sayin’ Anything,” “Last Humans”
– “Undeniable Hate,” “Punchy (The Clown),” “Peppy’s Bingo”
Filed Between: Seaweed’s Weak and Secret Chiefs 3 (First Grand Constitution And Bylaws)
Song Notes:
After the jump Continue reading

Indigo Girls: Swamp Ophelia

There are a lot of great songs on this disc, but the album itself feels like less than the sum of its parts.  Suffering from a clunky stretch, lyrics that are too abstruse to warrant their attempts at heft, and a lack of cohesion, it doesn’t always achieve its lofty aspirations.

The duo seems more like two individuals here, unable to decide whether they want to rock with some edge and grit (Amy Ray) or croon sweet, doe-eyed dreamy melodies (Emily Saliers).  The Ray stuff is generally better, but even then I wish she’d been reined in a bit more.  Her great songs are rendered merely good with the addition of unnecessary, contrasting sections (“Touch Me Fall”) or misguided, lengthy sound effects (“This Train Revised”).

Instead of figuring out how to sequence the songs into an entire album, they end up with a mishmash of turn-taking.  For example, instead of figuring out where to put the two big songs with strings (“Touch Me Fall” and “The Wood Song”) to make the whole album make sense, they just decided that, well, if we’d only had one, the middle would be the best place, so never mind that we both brought one to the table, let’s cram them both in there back-to-back.

At this stage in their discography, I imagine they were under a lot of pressure to follow-up Rites Of Passage with something that their devoted fan base would enjoy but also stretch themselves to prove to their critical audience that they could write something with more breadth.  I think they achieved both goals, but you can tell they’re reaching out of their established strike zone here.  It’s flawed, but most of these (everything except “Language Or The Kiss,” “Power Of Two,” and “Fare Thee Well”) are songs I want to keep and listen to again.

Rating:
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– “Fugitive,” “Least Complicated,” “Language Or The Kiss,” “Reunion,” “Touch Me Fall,” “The Wood Song,” “Mystery,” “Dead Man’s Hill,” “Fare Thee Well,” “This Train Revised”
-“Power Of Two”
Filed Between: In Like Flint/Our Man Flint Soundtracksand Indigo Girls’ 1200 Curfews
Song Notes:
Below the fold. Continue reading