Tori Amos
Boys for Pele

 Label: Atlantic

 Genre: Alternative

Four years ago, with her debut album, Little Earthquakes, Tori Amos redefined the concept of a woman and a piano. No whining waif, Amos dealt forcefully and unapologetically with a tough three Rs--rape, religion, and romance. Add a little artsy pretense, brought on by her distinctive piano-playing style and enigmatic poetry, and Amos was clearly one of the most unusual and distinctive voices of the decade. On Boys for Pele, Amos expands her nouveau chamber arrangements, but without sacrificing the intimate, hushed quality she achieved in the past with just her voice and piano.

Recorded in Ireland and New Orleans, Boys finds Amos adding harpsichord to her mix, bringing a lilting, Victorian minstrel quality to the song "Blood Roses." She employs a brass section on the jazzy "Mr. Zebra," a rich string arrangement for the quiet and measured "Marianne," and a gospel choir for the sprightly "Way Down." Working for the first time with other accomplished musicians, she makes sure their touches are subtle. On "Father Lucifer," George Porter's bass rumbles in the background while Steve Caton's guitar sustains ambient drones. Porter and drummer Manu Katché affect a dry, funky groove on "Professional Widow," and a slow, sultry rhythm for "Little Amsterdam." "Muhammad My Friend" is one of Amos's most intriguing melodies, a spare, perky arrangement broken by a brief blast of soprano sax.

There's a certain humor in Amos's references to other music--Prince's "Purple Rain" on "Hey Jupiter," Jackson Browne's "Take It Easy" on "In the Springtime of His Voodoo"--but Boys deals mostly with serious stuff, principally relationships run afoul. "Sometimes you're nothing but meat,'' she growls at the end of "Blood Roses." Many of her poetic images remain quizzical and oblique, perhaps an intentional move to preserve her mystery, but that's also part of Amos's package. Taken in tandem with the music, her words don't necessarily make more sense, but they do become part of an arresting aural experience. óGary Graff

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