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Tori Amos - From The Choirgirl Hotel CD (album) cover


Tori Amos


Crossover Prog

3.79 | 69 ratings

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4 stars "If the Divine master plan is perfection, maybe next I'll give Judas a try..."

"From the Choirgirl Hotel" is described by Tori as "Dispatches and Polaroids 1963-1998." It falls during and covers one of her most turbulent personal periods which found her, among other things, suffering multiple miscarriages, meeting her future husband, and moving into the next "band" phase of her career. Previous tours were either Tori and her keys, or Tori with a small group of occasional support musicians. After the spring 1998 release of Choirgirl, Tori jumped in and did the full rock band thing with Jon Evans, Matt Chamberlain, and Steve Caton. I saw one of the shows that summer and it was most certainly different than the "girl and piano" shows. The sound was very loud and dense, the atmosphere a bit dark from the pulsing lights and electronics, and the material challenging. All of these changes were very fitting considering the album she had just released, the spectacular Choirgirl Hotel.

Such a shift on this album. Pele was all over the map and sprawling, an album with a sense of wild freedom and avant-garde pop if there is such a thing. It was a chaotic album. Here so much has changed. The album features a band for all of the good and bad it brings. Tori is more reeled in somehow having to balance her eccentricities with what other people bring to the table. For the first time I detect a different kind of frailty, a bit of vulnerability from age and sadness, from life's realizations. Tori has always been open about pain but in the past she had an air of invincibility that always seemed to win out. There was a jubilant cockiness I no longer sense much of here. Where she once sang "I'm OK when every thing is not OK" she now sings "well I know we're dying and there's no sign of a parachute." There is less joy this time it seems, even the booklet artwork has turned decidedly more claustrophobic and dark, literally.

None of the above is a criticism of the album, which is another huge milestone in her career. Choirgirl may be dark but it is pure constructed beauty, it is tight yet varied, sensual, painful. The songwriting is sleek and solid but bubbling with new sounds and rhythms. More than half of the tracks on Choirgirl are among the very best of her 90s work, and the rest ain't exactly bad either. Listen to the bright, chang-ey guitars laid over "Spark" along with the amazing bridge. The beauty of the vocal and the self-harmonizing just makes my heart melt. There is the brooding undercurrents of "Cruel." The build-up from the serene to the desperately dramatic in "Black Dove." The delicious, pulsing techno-candy of "Raspberry Swirl" which is the single most memorable moment from the concert I saw years ago---it was powerfully intense. "Northern Lad" is one of Tori's greatest vocals and could have felt at home on the debut album, it is a nod back to tracks like "Winter." The remaining tracks are also very strong with plenty of twists to them. Choirgirl has a distinct style and maturity about it---for an artist so often compared to Kate Bush, Choirgirl is the first album where I really hear a connection. Not so much in the direct sense of "sounds like her," but rather in the artistic achievement. Choirgirl sounds like Amos in "Ninth Wave" mode, on top of her game, pulling out all the intense musical stops, and nearly every creative impulse coming to successful fruition. Both also share feelings of isolation, tension, and emotional drowning. Moments of release can be found, but again, more in terms of beauty than of joy.

If "Choirgirl Hotel" is not the Tori Amos "masterpiece" it is certainly very near the top. I have some later titles to hear before I could make that judgement, but it is an essential title for Tori fans and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who loved the "easier to digest" Little Earthquakes. Choirgirl is not an easy title, but a powerful one which showcases the full spectrum of talents Amos had acquired by this time.

Finnforest | 4/5 |


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