Little Earthquakes

Tori Amos

Atlantic Records, 1992

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


It's been over six months since I reviewed Tori Amos's Boys For Pele, and I think there are still people who haven't forgiven me for raking that album over the coals.

There once was a time when I thought Tori Amos was one of the most exciting new musicians to hit the airwaves. She put new hope into piano-based music since Elton John first hit the scene, and she could rightfully be called a new voice in folk.

Back in 1992, Amos released her first solo album Little Earthquakes, and I don't think she's ever topped this masterpiece. Even five years later, people are drawn to this album like moths to a lightbulb; look at the resurgence in popularity for the track "Silent All These Years."

Coming off a disastrous attempt at fronting a heavy-metal band (and, brother, I would kill to get my hands on an original copy of Y Kant Tori Read just to hear it), Amos withdrew into the shell - or, rather, the hell - that had been her life to that point. A victim of rape earlier in her life, Amos bunkered down with her piano in front of her and recorded Little Earthquakes in a style that made it seem like she was pouring her life into it.

In fact, she was - this was the story of her life, recorded for posterity in case she never again was given the chance to record her music. The brutal honesty of the lyrics combined with the beauty of the music is what makes this album so special.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"Winter" was the first track I ever heard off Little Earthquakes, and it was the one that sucked me into Amos's world. While I admit I'm grasping at straws for the meanings in many of her songs, it seems that this song tells about the changing relationship between Amos and her father: "Hair is grey and the fires are burning / So many dreams on the shelf / You say I wanted you to be proud of me / I always wanted that myself." Whether the relationship has become strained or is improving over time I'm not sure, but the song is a poignant reminder of the changes that occur between parent and child.

"Me And A Gun," with all its a capella power, is Amos reliving the rape she experienced; the lack of instrumentation makes the message all the more powerful. The trauma is slowly being replaced by righteous anger: "Yes I wore a slinky red thing / Does that mean I should spread for you." The track seems to be a cleansing for Amos - a purging of the demon, if you will.

But more powerful is "Silent All These Years," a song which I freely admit I don't understand. In one sense, I want to say this is Amos lashing out at the person who raped her; on another stanza, I want to say it is Amos lashing out at someone she loves (loved?) who could never love her the same way. Maybe I'll never fully understand the message in this track; all I know is it is one beautiful song that I never get tired of hearing.

Other songs on Little Earthquakes contain some powerful moments, such as "China," "Mother," "Crucify" and "Precious Things." A few others, however, just don't do anything for me, such as "Leather" and "Happy Phantom." Still, one or two minor misfires do not ruin the remainder of this album. (I still have yet to view the home video for Little Earthquakes - it's sitting right next to me as I write this review.)

I don't know why this album moves me so much while others that have been just as honest don't. Maybe it's in Amos's piano playing; she knows when the mood calls for a gentle touch on the keys and when it calls for thundrous pounding. Maybe it's in her vocal delivery. Maybe it's in the orchestration on some of the tracks. Whatever it is, it works - and Amos has not been able to recreate it since.

Little Earthquakes is an album that holds appeal for both men and women, though I will admit that men would probably have to keep a more open mind about the album. If you do so, you're in for one emotional ride - and one incredible performance.

Rating: A-

User Rating: B+



© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atlantic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.