Tori Amos: A Return to Form

I downloaded Tori’s new album last week and got a few opportunities to listen to the first half. So far, I really like it. It does seem a bit like both a return to form and an evoluation. I wasn’t a huge fan of The Beekeeper—I thought it sounded like outtakes from Scarlet’s Walk (which I loved).

The songs have a little bit more of an edge, and I’m pleased to report there is even a snarling electric guitar in the mix. Tori’s creating characters again—five women of various backgrounds and interests—and letting them sing about their lives. It’s an interesting conceit and does work toward creating a more cohesive album.

In celebration, a rundown (in descending order) of my favorite Tori albums:

1. Under the Pink
2. Little Earthquakes
3. Scarlet’s Walk*
4. From the Choirgirl Hotel
5. Boys for Pele*
6. To Venus and Back
7. The Beekeeper

*indicates that I saw her on this tour. I event bought the pig-suckling t-shirt at the Boys for Pele show.

And as a bonus, three of my favorite b-sides:


One Last List Because AWP’s Right Around the Corner

Albums I’ve purchased this year:

+44, When Your Heart Stops Beating
They kind of remind me of Sugar and Foo Fighters playing together, but I like it. It has a fresh, 90s-alterna feel to it.

Ok Go, Oh No
I was a little late to the train, but I’ve sorted it out now and I really like this band.

Avril Lavigne, Under My Skin
I’m done fighting this. I love Avril Lavigne. Do you hear me? I LOVE HER. I’m gonna tell the world. I listened to the album for two weeks straight. It’s well done.

Matchbox Twenty, More Than You Think You Are
Another belated purchase; I really like Rob Thomas’s songwriting and lyrics, and this is a good album.

Wham!, Make It Big
Is this title something George Michael is fond of uttering in men’s rooms? Whatever the case, it was a nostalgia purchase. I used to roller skate to this album in my basement. It was like Xanadu, but no ONJ.

The Blow, Paper Television
A gift from my friend Kevin, this is an interesting, quiet little album of softcore alternative electronica. Nice, different.

Matt Kearney, Nothing Left to Lose
What would happen if Coldplay picked up Duncan Sheik’s guitar and started doing a little spoken word? The answer: this.

Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere
A strange album with a wide range, I really enjoy the way they inject R&B and soul into their songs. Great cover of the Femmes’s “Gone Daddy Gone.”

Dannii Minogue, Neon Nights
If it’s not clear by now, I’m gay.

Lilly Allen, Alright, Still
Oops, and I just got a little gayer. Allen mixes reggae, ska hooks, P!nk’s brand of lyrics with Shirley Manson’s anger into a pop confection you don’t mind so much when she stretches to rhyme “al fresco” with “Tesco.” Cute accent, too.

Stefy, The Orange Album
Yes, delicious. Sweet and tangy, with a thick rind of guitar and…oh, where is this metaphor going?

Young Love, Too Young to Fight It
LOVE. Reminds me of Panic! At the Disco with a heavier focus on electronic beats than guitar.

Erasure, On the Road to Nashville: (Live in Nashville)
How am I so blessed but to have TWO acoustic albums by Erasure? This one torques up the country and provides revisions of some of their older favorites like “Stop!,” “Chains of Love,” and “A Little Respect.” A must-hear.

Evanescence, The Open Door
I tried to resist, but I love Amy Lee’s voice, and sometimes I get angry too. And sad. And my dark angry sadness needs a little company. I haven’t heard it yet because I just bought it today, but it will probably keep me company in the dark angry sadness that is AWP.

From the Vault: Ten Surprisingly Classic Albums

Today’s list is something I mentioned earlier—a brief consideration of my extensive music collection. Today I’m choosing ten albums, released in the 90s or earlier, that have remained compelling pieces of work for me. Some might not be that shocking and some you’ve maybe never heard before, but all deserve a good listen.

1. Abra Moore, Strangest Places.
I first learned of Abra through an ad for Visa. She was one of those “I lived in a van” singers in the 90s, and she had a brief moment with this interesting rock/country/folk album. The songs have held up because the writing, particularly the lyrics, is so interesting.

2. Belly, King.
A swan song for Tanya Donnelly’s short-lived band, King is a 90s-alterna-rock curiosity. Departing from the “confessional” tone of their first album, King snarls and bops with ferocious abandon and quiet restraint.

3. Dave Matthews Band, Under the Table and Dreaming.
I still think the first album is the best, but it took several years to grow on me. I bought it, sold it, and then bought it again a few years later. “Satellite” in particular is an enduring song, and “Ants Marching” is one of my favorites by him.

4. Duncan Sheik, Duncan Sheik.
How unfortunate that Duncan fell into a tweener marketing ploy with his first single, which is, yes, catchy—but good, and this album is lightyears beyond what “Barely Breathing” might make you think. Tender, unrestricted, and emotionally honest, his first collection is truly his most cohesive.

5. Fiona Apple, Tidal.
Why do I keep picking first albums? People gave Fiona a bad rap because she had some things to say and she was erroneously lumped into the Tori Amos bin. This first album is lush, disarming, with a youthful misstep or two—but still a classy debut by a promising and innovative artist.

6. Hole, Live Through This.
The first time I heard this band, it was a revelation for me. Courtney Love, while crazy, wrote a brilliant and provocative collection that borrows both from her history with the girl-punk band Babes in Toyland and brings in elements of pop influenced, no doubt, by her connection to Nirvana. “Violet” is a great example of this contradiction, but the album soars straight up from this first track to the last.

7. Luscious Jackson, Electric Honey.
Another last album by a great band, EH found these talented women finally gelling into some great catchy pop tunes with substance. An extension of their hit “Naked Eye,” the album is wrought with unforgettable melodies and guitar hooks.

8. No Doubt, Tragic Kingdom.
A nearly perfect album, No Doubt’s second major effort is, to me, one of the greatest examples of how personal torment can make great art. The collision of Gwen’s confessional lyrics with ska rhythms and pop hooks is an amazing conflict.

9. Radiohead, The Bends.
Although I love OK Computer (and nothing since) by this band, I think The Bends is a more even collection of songs, all of them tying back to the theme of how technology impacts our lives and makes us different human. Songs like “Just” echo their first hit, “Creep,” but amazing anthems like “Street Spirit [Fade Out]” really make this an album to hear again and again.

10. Tori Amos, Under the Pink.
I might be the only gay man in America who thinks this is a great album, but I prefer it to her other work. The striking irony of “God,” the hushed secrets of “Past the Mission,” the sprawling lush anthem of “Yes, Anastasia” all work for me. And other, smaller songs—”The Waitress” and “Cornflake Girl”—still hold up for me. I never was a cornflake girl. I thought it was a good solution hanging with the raisin girls.

Honorable Mentions: Violent Femmes, Violent Femmes; Rufus Wainwright, Rufus Wainwright.

Maybe I Made a Big Mistake Last Night

After hearing this song several times at this bar I like to go to, I finally got around to figuring who this band was and what they’re like.

Friends, I am here to tell you.

Stefy sound like the love child of Berlin and Pat Benatar who hangs out with Gwen Stefani (pre-solo career) and has a crush on David Bowie.

It’s hot.

The video for “Chelsea”:

More here.

My Amazing Friends

Tonight I’ve been sitting down to write in my living room while listening to my friend Aaron Middleton‘s amazing, fully improvised piano CD Distant Storm. It’s available for purchase and awesome.