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(Welcome to Sunny Florida DVD, 2004)
When Amos released Scarlet’s Walk, you could access a secret site by inserting the disc into your computer and following the instructions. The secret site came complete with map of the United States and poorly-streaming b-sides. This is where most fans were introduced to the one song recorded during the Scarlet’s Walk sessions that didn’t sound completely middle of the road. “Tombigbee” is a thrilling rock song that perfectly encapsulates “political” Tori. It’s no secret that Amos is outraged at what she believes America has become—she wrote two full album dedicated to the topic! Of all the songs that attempt to illustrate the raping of the American land (“Dark Side of the Sun”, “Virginia”, “Pancake”, etc.), “Tombigbee” is clearly the standout. Musically, it’s a perfect rock meld of Wurlitzer and full band, with enough stops and starts to please any casual listener. Lyrically, Amos rips into the state of America’s reactionary politics and hypocrisies with lines such as, “To you it’s another day / To me it’s a grim reaping / Just another shooting star / Strung out on your wire”, as well as, “So you get done, then you get some / Sure enough, it won’t hold you for long / Then you say ‘Right, this is all mine’ / But hasn’t your donor card expired / From Blueridge to Cattail on the prairie / From fly-over country / Back through Mississippi / I said go, man you go / Well, you raise me 20 / I’m raising you 500 treaties signed by your father’s lies”. It’s compelling and striking, and should have been on the album.
(Under the Pink, 1994)
At this point in Amos’ career, she had revealed herself as a shockingly earnest and honest singer/songwriter. She laid the groundwork for the type of musical style she was most comfortable with, namely soft piano-centric music. When Under the Pink was released in 1994, many people were not expecting this shockingly abrasive track where she basically defames the god of the Catholic Church played against a forceful full-band arrangement with screeching and disturbing guitars. No one was expecting this. Today, it stands as one of the most daringly abrasive Amos tracks, based both on the lyrical content and the musical style. It’s definitely difficult for good Catholic boys and girls to hear a crazy red-haired piano player singing lines like “God sometimes you just don’t come through / Do you need a woman to look after you? / Tell me you’re crazy and maybe then I’ll understand… I’ve got to find, find, find / Why you always go when the wind blows”. Hearing these blasphemous words being sung against scary, seductive music is like listening to the devil coming after you. Of course, as you mature, and begin to understand the inner workings of organized religion and their basic denial of women (an area that Amos covers often, see: “Marys of the Sea” and “Past the Mission”), you realize that what she tackled in this song was both brave and brazen, disallowing the Catholic Church to relegate women to back-of-mind second-class citizens. This is why Tori Amos is cool.
(“Spark” single, 1998)
If there’s one thing that Amos knows, it’s heartbreak and how to tear your heart out in song. Break-ups have been a HUGE theme throughout Tori’s work, and these songs are always most popular by fans. Tracks such as “Baker Baker”, “Black Swan”, “Tear in Your Hand” and “Hey, Jupiter” always receive uproarious applause when performed in concert. Along came Boys For Pele an album full of heartbreak, confusion and denial, as it chronicled her break up of an 8-year long relationship. Unfortunately, it ended with the track “Twinkle” instead of this song (which was written during the Boys for Pele sessions). It finally saw the light of day two years later on the single for “Spark” from the album From the Choirgirl Hotel. It’s a beautifully touching number detailing the anguish you feel when the end of a relationship is cooling faster than you are prepared for. The most painful moment comes at about ¾ in, when she sings “and is your place in heaven worth giving up these kisses, these kisses?” Amongst some of her most stellar work on break-ups and heartache, “Cooling” stands as the supreme. It’s magnificently heartbreaking and will make you ugly cry.
(From the Choirgirl Hotel, 1998)
A heavy thematic element in Amos’ music, which began with the release of her fan-favourite album From the Choirgirl Hotel, is the notion of motherhood and how that ties into her identity as a woman. From the Choirgirl Hotel’s release was preceded by this single. It’s a ‘60s/‘70s-style rock piece with Amos singing through vocal effects and plunking away at a guitar-MIDI keyboard. The song’s content details one of her many miscarriages. Through the song she struggles with how to be a woman without the ability to nurture a life inside her: “She’s convinced she could hold back a glacier / But she couldn’t keep Baby alive / Doubting if there’s a woman in there somewhere / Here”. This concept is accented perfectly by the haunting video which features a tied up Tori escaping from her kidnapper—a video which at the time of its release needed to be preceded with a content warning for its graphic disturbing imagery. Since “Spark”, Amos has ventured repeatedly down the path of motherhood and womanhood with some stellar tunes such as “Mother Revolution” and “Dragon”, as well as some awful numbers like “Ribbons Undone”. “Spark” still holds as the catalyst for this topic, and is still the most disturbingly introspective and insightful.