Little Earthquakes

The next album on my review hitlist is a departure from my previous musing and it is Little Earthquakes by the one and only Tori Amos. Twenty years after its release it still remains a remarkably fresh sounding album and one that has had a far reaching influence. Without Amos would we have had the pure rage of Alanis Morrisette? Or the confident sexuality of Alison Goldfrapp? Or the creative force of Bat for Lashes? Maybe we would have, but Amos has certainly helped to shape many diverse artistes.  The first time I became aware of her was through her cover of Smells like Teen Spirit. It was a brave move to cover such an iconic and era defining tune. I am sure many a grunger thought ‘what the hell is this?’ But in many ways Amos was in tune with that movement as they both had a confessional side and they both challenged the conformity that was a hallmark of the late 1980s: a conformity that began to dissipate as both Amos and grunge exploded into the 1990s.

Looking back at the early 90s one can see that a strange surrealism had started to creep into the popular consciousness. David Lynch’s seminal Twin Peaks had arrived and dreamscape and actuality danced a mind-bending waltz into our existence. The walls of communism had begun to collapse and in the western world hope was the watchword. Grunge, melding the two, tapped into that rich seem offering hope to the dispossessed but it did so in surreal terms. Cobain spoke of ‘the mulatto, the albino, the mosquito and, (of course), the libido’. Chris Cornell screamed of searching for a place with his good eye closed and Vedder, knowing he was alive, asked ‘Do I deserve to be? And if so, who answers?’ It was amongst this background that Earthquakes was released and Amos would take the surreal, the serious, the comedic, the theological, the masculine and the feminine and make a beautifully layered piece of art.

Opening with Crucify she asks: why do we have to carry so much guilt and try to endlessly please those who are meant to love us? Her piano playing is a revelation but her vocals are astoundingly emotive. Her voice has the passion and rage needed to question and challenge the patriarchal system that, more often than not, places women in a secondary position. Girl expands on the theme where she states that she has ‘been everybody else’s girl, maybe one day she’ll be her own’. Serious lyrics backed by sumptuous strings and a mesmerising melody. Silent all these years looks at relationships and the ways in which the feminine is subsumed and voiceless.  Precious things is a stand out track, a staccato piano kick starts it into life, the drums drive it on, the use of the guitar is atmospheric and the lyrics are searing. Amos is on top form writing ‘because you can make me cum, that doesn’t make you Jesus’. As the percussive beating of the piano climbs she delivers one of her best lines about the girls who have taunted her with their ‘nine inch nails and little fascist panties tucked inside the heart of every nice girl’. In a word: masterful. Winter is just a beautiful song about her relationship with her father. Her father asks ‘when you going to make up your mind? When you gonna love you as much as I do?’ Happy Phantom, China, Leather, Mother and Tear in your Hand are all equally as important to the overall concept and themes of Earthquakes. The album ends with the song Little Earthquakes which is about the way in which the small things in life can rip us apart. But before that there was a truly harrowing song and one of the bravest and honest songs I think I have ever heard. Me and a Gun is an acapella song which details Amos’ experience of being raped. To be honest it would be an injustice to try to find words to describe it but I will say that I think it took a strong, brave and courageous woman to put into song what she experienced. If you have never heard it I urge you to listen to it when you can.  Amos would later co-found RAINN an organisation dedicated to help those affected by sexual violence and abuse.

So, there you have it Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes. It is twenty years old and still a vital record to have in your collection. If you don’t have it then get out there and get it. It is a rollercoaster of a ride. Thanks Tori.

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  1. Wow. Just wow. That was an unbelievable read. You make me want to go out right now and buy this. Sublime writing.

  2. Tori Amos’s Little Earthquakes is an album everyyyy woman should have. And man too. 🙂

  3. @ jamhenry thank you very much for the kind comment. The review has been brewing for a while. @Irbizarrebazaar as a man I agree wholeheartedly 🙂

  4. Me likey!! Good work, mister.

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