Y Kant Tori Read

Y Kant Tori Read

Atlantic, 1988


REVIEW BY: Scott Hill


There’s a common occurrence amongst what many would call “The Lilith Fair Crowd,” that wave of stridently feminist singer-songwriters who left an indelible, can’t-pin-me-down mark on the music of the ’90s... and that’s how many of them got their start in more conventional, sometimes even-cookie-cutter fare.

There was Sarah McLachlan fronting the short-lived rock band The October Game, as well as Natalie Merchant fronting the much more successful (and genuinely classic) 10,000 Maniacs. And while Bjork’s tenure with the Sugarcubes still had streaks of her off-kilter sensibilities, the syncopated grooves of their guitar riffs had more in common with summer rockers like Red Hot Chili Peppers or even the B-52’s than the ethereal caterwauling of Bjork’s later solo efforts.

Likewise, Alanis Morrissette's prior stint as a Tiffany-style teenybopper before Jagged Little Pill tossed a hand grenade on her fluffy image is such the stuff of legend, even TV show How I Met Your Mother had a recurring bit that riffed on it, with their most acerbic character once being teen sensation Robin Sparkles. It’s as if, in order for these artists to later serve as such wonderful sirens for complex emotionality, they first had to toil in the trenches of comparative (and often male-centric) pablum.

Surely, none of these singers must have been more keen to put those proverbial trenches behind them than piano virtuoso Tori Amos, best known for elaborating on the diaphanous path of fairy chanteuses that Kate Bush paved before her. Named (with X-Tremely Kewl lettering) from an incident in Amos’ childhood where she was asked to leave Peabody Conservatory because she refused to read sheet music, Y Kant Tori Read was a motley band that paired Amos with guitarist Steve Caton (who’d be the only bandmate she’d continue to collaborate with), drummer Matt Sorum (later an alumni of Guns ‘n Roses and Velvet Revolver) and bassist Brad Cobb (who’d go on to do nothing else of note, apparently), plus a bevy of other rotating artists.

They only ever made one album. It’s very clear why.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

One of Amos’ strengths evident in her solo career is her uncanny ability to weave an immersive setting with each song; more than simply harkening to a specific moment, her lush instrumentations would paint a complete environment… the listener would truly be there.

Unfortunately, virtually none of those strengths are wielded competently in Y Kant Tori Read’s confused, jumbled mess of a self-titled album. For example, there’s about 30 seconds of it at the beginning and 30 more at the end of “Fire On The Side,” but the rest of the track is mired in faux-Roxette-style anthem-ing that just doesn’t gel.

You know that bit in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty where the two fairy godmothers can’t stop feuding over whether the dress should be pink or blue? I have to imagine that the same belligerent back-and-forth was present in every practice session for this group, because there’s a feeling of disgruntled compromise permeating this whole setlist. It feels present on opening track “The Big Picture,” which seems like it really wants to cut loose on making a big statement, man, but even with a music video that involves Tori spray-painting a cop’s crotch and vamping with a pirate sword while wearing inflatable, striped paints, nothing can save it from being the sort of mediocre nothing-rock you’d see in a corporate training video. It makes “We Built This City” feel like “You Shook Me All Night Long.”

And that sense of confused strife is definitely present in “Fayth,” which just might be one of the worst songs I have ever heard. No joke, it sounds like Ray Charles trying to play a Don Henley song from memory as Slash from Guns 'n Roses fails to impersonate B.B. King’s guitar grooves, all while Debbie Harry rehearses a sequel to her "Man From Mars" rap ditty from Blondie’s “Rapture.”

Yes. All of that. AT THE SAME TIME. Discordant doesn’t even begin to cover it.

This milieu of muddled, musical histrionics runs rampant throughout. There’s the intrusive saxophones in the already-cluttered “You Go To My Head,” the breakneck shift into a plodding boogey found in “Heart Attack At 23,” jungle flutes randomly overlaid onto cries of “Hello?” before Tori’s affected vocal fry undercuts the jamming out of “Pirates”… the list goes on and on. Does the word choice of my review, itself, feel like it’s trying too hard and warring with itself in its attempts to form coherent thoughts? Well, welcome to listening to this album.

Of the 10 tracks on here, only two achieve any sense of pleasing cohesion (appropriately, I hear they're also the only two that Tori will play at her concerts nowadays). The pretentiously-named “Etienne Trilogy: The Highlands, Etienne, Skyeboat Song” is fine, mostly a montage of nostalgic musings, fairly pleasant. (Though the extended bagpipe postlude feels a bit unnecessary. What was wrong with a simple fadeout, guys?) “Cool On Your Island,” however, is a genuine keeper. The sonic tapestry-making which would become Tori Amos’ trademark is here in full display, balancing a somehow contemplative rumba rhythm with moog-esque guitar strums. I'd put it in any appropriate playlist without reservation.

Nevertheless, one genuinely good and one mostly fine song out of ten isn’t a great average, especially when the other eight are chaotic enough that silence just might be preferable. In paper-grading scoring, this averages out to a...

Rating: D-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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