Tori Amos – Boys for Pele (1996)

This is probably the most long overdue post on the blog, because I’ve been meaning to write about this album ever since I first started. I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t write sooner… probably I’m just easily distracted and I tend to follow my impulses throughout my music library, which leads to chaos. Another explanation would be I never really dared, up until today – cold, sunny, frantic and layered between fiercely aware and blissfully air headed. That’s pretty much the whole album, in a nutshell, although sometimes it’s hard to feel the lightness and joy hiding in these songs.

Tori Amos made this album in a very combative frame of mind, at a time when she was trying to sort out her relationship with men in general. I think that’s one of the things which make her such a unique and, quite frankly, odd presence, and such a stellar songwriter – the ability to tackle general, huge questions like that, from a very personal starting point. This music is as if her particular way of perceiving things suddenly became a Tori mask one can wear in order to see and feel as she does, about everything at once. It’s not a comfortable mask to wear, but it’s very seductive, and remarkably well crafted. It smells of blood and of cold coffee, it feels like leather and rose petals on your skin and wearing it suddenly makes you taste fresh snow on your tongue. Right at the edge of vision, Pele, the volcano goddess, is holding hands with Lucifer. The world through Tori’s eyes is more theatrical, assaulted by symbols and shimmering lines unfurling in the air between objects, ideas and people, in color coded paths, most of which are unexpected and dizzying.

Even though it’s a very sonically right album, Boys for Pele feels like a solitary record, and it doesn’t have to do only with the songwriting – this is the first album Tori produced for herself, that is to say, she crafted the sonority, the way the different voices and timbres meld together after raw recording. As a result, it seems remarkably even, brilliantly polished, much more coherent in sound than the experiences it’s inspired by seem to have been. But then again, at the risk of sounding repetitive, that’s part of Tori’s talent, and part of the wonderful, sustaining tension holding this record together, an image of both search and resolution, superimposed. Her sharp, refined presence, both as a harpsichord and piano player, and as a singer is wonderfully balanced by the occasional orchestra, bass and so on, used carefully, just enough to create detail, but not interfere with the simplicity and directness of the melodies.

This is my favorite of her albums, a record on which sadness and irony combine in just the right proportions to at least give the illusion of hard earned peace of mind. Enjoy!

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