One of the greatest moments in adulthood is when you can look through your photo album and make peace with the dork you used to be. Even better if you can look at those greasy Polaroids and one-hour 4x6s and say, “Wow, I was actually pretty cool.”
So let me say, congratulations, Tori Amos, for coming around to what a lot of us music nerds have thought for years—Y Kant Tori Read is actually pretty rad.
The eponymous 1988 debut of the band of the same name is a far cry from 2017’s Native Invader released earlier this fall, as depicted on the album’s cover featuring Amos’ red hair teased like an erupting volcano, holding a sword on her shoulders in gloved hands. The album is synth-pop of the highest order, the lovechild of Kate Bush and Cyndi Lauper, featuring drummer Matt Sorum, who would later join Guns N’ Roses, bassist Brad Cobb and guitarist Steve Caton, who would stay with Amos through 1999’s To Venus and Back.
I need to give my best friend Heather credit for introducing me to Tori Amos when American Doll Posse (2007) came out, but I would have 100 percent adored this album if I had known about it in my teens. It’s poetry you can dance to. It’s Madonna for awkward virgins who prefer books to boys.
On “The Big Picture,” the album’s debut single, Amos belts and swoons with the best of them in an instantly-catchy tune. The video features her in a ruffled belly shirt and tall boots in a futuristic-looking ghetto. There was no reason for this song to fall as flat as it did, chart-wise, except that perhaps Fate had other plans. “Pirates” has the same ‘80s dance-club bounce, elevated with some classically Amos poetry, “now I sail my ship on dry land.” It’s a song for smart girls who want to dance, and it’s one of the album’s most divine gems.
But remove the drum machine from “Cool on Your Island” and the melody wouldn’t have been out of place on Boys for Pele. “We could buy an airplane / and build a home in the sand / you could tell your secrets / I’d understand,” she croons. The coda is unrepentantly ‘80s, but at the core is the Tori that would reemerge in 1993 with Little Earthquakes. Heather and I joke that this is our song for Nina and Lance on Portlandia.
In the past few years, Amos has played “Cool on Your Island” and “On the Boundary” in concert, along with mash-ups of “Fayth” with George Michael’s “Faith.” That being said, “Fayth,” in its album form, is a clumsy try-and-rap that would be a complete lost cause if it wasn’t for the sublime chorus.
Ballads like “Floating City” and “Fire on the Side” show a glimpse of the achingly beautiful Amos that would subsequently inform her entire career. But as slick ‘80s pop stylings began their descent into darker, sparser sounds, the album flopped and the band broke up. For many years, Amos disavowed this album, but with its upcoming 30th anniversary in January and the limited edition Record Store Day Black Friday vinyl and CD reissues arriving in just a few weeks on November 24th, she has at last embraced her earlier self and invited us along on the journey.
And maybe I’ll see if I can’t find a ruffled crop top for when Heather and I go to see her at New York City’s Beacon Theatre in November. I hope she plays “Pirates.”
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