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Tori Amos - Boys For Pele CD (album) cover

BOYS FOR PELE

Tori Amos

 

Crossover Prog

3.39 | 57 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "we both know it was a girl, back in Bethlehem..."

Tori's third album was an amazing comeback from her sophomore slump and truly one of the most unique, sprawling titles of the 1990s rock scene. In terms of ambition, magnitude, and pretentiousness (in a good way), this was her "Lamb Lies Down." This was her Ummagumma, her Quadrophenia, her Exile on Main Street. No, it doesn't -sound- like those records, I'm talking about the scope and vision thing. Tori wrote the album as she was breaking up with Eric Rosse although it would be unfair to put the enormity of the male confrontation theme on his shoulders, there were many more demons being exorcised. This album was a journey trying to find her whole self. She claimed her old programming was breaking down, that she needed to find her passion instead of stealing it from her men, and that the way she looked at life changed with this record. When you hear it, you'll know she isn't just talking out of her ass. It's earth shaking.

Tori decided to travel again for the next project and in the summer of 1995, she chose a church in Delgany, Ireland. She went wild with sound on this one, adding to her piano harpsichord, harmonium, clavichord, as well as a wealth of guest musicians and location sound effects. From there they moved to another house in Ireland for a month and then headed to New Orleans to mix the results. Rolling Stone naturally couldn't figure this strange album out, but it was pretty well received by the Brits, and of course the tour was her most amazing yet. The lack of a full band is one of the aspects that made her early shows so cool. Tori's amazing keyboard playing and her very special vocals have the space they need to create the ambiance, and the crowds were not distracted by the usual "rock band" aesthetic. As the Guardian would note in their review, "who needs a rhythm section when you have a left hand like hers."

The album is sprawling, feeling like a double album, filled with her most diverse work to date. Some refer to it as baroque-pop and no doubt this comes from the harpsichord and the unique centuries-past feel to some tracks. But in reality the album is more of a modern surrealist painting, a blur of Tori's most experimental whims mixed with a turbulent, fiery time in her personal life. There is anger side by side with great beauty. There is the simple and most naked emotion side by side with the avant-garde. Not every track works perfectly and the album would lose its charms if they did. You can't listen to single tracks from Pele, nor is worth discussing single tracks. It has to be taken as a whole, a travelogue with both European vibes and Tori's southern heart lurking not far below the surface in the album's themes. Some tracks are just very short, minute long snippets, just quick musical "thoughts" which provide bridges between longer pieces and give the album that thick, storybook feel. With musical styles and influences as far apart as jazz and a bizarre Eagles flashback within the same song. Soothing lullabies, preemptive recriminations, restless sleep, and heat. And not a dry heat but a glistening humidity. Some songs are very minimalist; almost a cappella Tori in open-hearted emotion, other songs are just the opposite, with exotic accompaniments that go in any and every direction, masking the lyric in heady but fascinating flowery. I can see why some charge the album with being "jumbled" and yet it is that strident eclecticism that makes Pele one of Tori's most memorable recordings. Tori always was wary of taking on a full band in these days, comparing having a band with being "married" and saying she wasn't ready. On Pele you can hear the transition from "girl and piano" to the band sound that would explode on the live tour for her next work Choirgirl Hotel. Also in "Professional Widow" and the singles mix of "Talula" you can hear a Bjorkish electronica preluding the turn that Choirgirl would take. Thus Pele becomes so absolutely busy with every direction possible, it's like Tori's head and her musical heart are exploding on the canvas.

This is such an impressive piece of free art that would be eclipsed or not by her next work, depending on whether you prefer the chaotic or the organized. I've reached the conclusion that I can't peg Tori's "best" album, but I can say the Pele/Choirgirl era was a very special arc in her career---their ambition, success rate, and pure freedom being something to behold. Forget about whether or not Tori is "prog enough" and give the music a fair chance at expression. Albums like these need some time to marinade in your ears, it's not fast food or paint-by-numbers retro-prog.

Finnforest | 4/5 |

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