The junction between virtue and vice is ripe territory in popular music. Artist like Prince has made entire albums dedicated to the subject. In rock the art of juxtaposing the two is seldom handled with the wit and sophistication of Tori Amos.
Amos can appear to the uninitiated as a pompous early Kate Bush follower. On closer inspection her stage antics (like playing an upright piano) and lyrical abstractions have artistic implications that go beyond just image. Like Kate Bush for whom Amos is often compared, her music is multi layered lyrically and follows through a piano classically inspired model.
Having grown up the daughter of a Methodist minister in NC, Amos early life was no doubt filled with terrifying tales of hellfire and virtuous restraint. As a young adult she experienced a fair share of trauma and came to resent organized religion. That cynicism became an underlining theme in much of her music. With her second studio album Under The Pink she explored more personal issues with a varying levels of vulnerability and decadence.
Her classically inspired music was more acoustic on Under The Pink than her debut Little Earthquakes and refined the loud-soft passage dynamic of her music. One of the albums most popular tracks was also its most controversial. “God” was a provocative and smartly written mid tempo piece with squelching rhythmic guitars and a syncopated melody.
Other songs show off her classical training musically and in lyrical content. For instance after getting sick from bad food, she claimed to be inspired by the spirit of Anastasia Romanova, the grand duchess of Russia and daughter of Tsar Nicholas II in the song “Yes Anastasia”.
That kind of academically sourced inspiration was typically was not expected from female alt pop artists, yet it was the norm for people like Beck, Ben Folds or Loyd Cole. For Amos, the obscure nature of some of her inspiration set her aside from the run of the mill female rocker. It also got her the reputation of being a difficult perfectionist.
Most of the album is made up of songs that use an alternating system of delicate loud and soft passages, making the few upbeat songs stand out. The first single and biggest hit from the album “Cornflake Girl” is a good example. While the album is mostly acoustic, it does employ some sounds that might be associated with industrial or dance music, but in a subdued manner befitting of the overall delicate nature of the album.
Under the Pink was one of the year’s best albums and would go on to rank as one of the ’90s best. It established a kind of template for Tori Amos that lasted well into the ’90s. Even today Amos is most often compared to Kate Bush, mostly because classically trained and influenced rock is such a rare bid today.