Under The Pink

Tori Amos

Atlantic Records, 1994


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Tori Amos had to have known that it was going to be impossible to live up to the expectations people had coming off the success of her debut album Little Earthquakes...and, to her credit, she didn't try to.

Instead, she recorded Under The Pink, an album that literally demands that you take it on its own merits, warts and all. And while not every track on this disc works, Amos proves that she not only deserves the accolades she had received to this point, but that she is most powerful when the instrumentation is kept to a minimum.

Oh, sure, one could say that by sticking to her voice, piano and maybe some orchestral fills in the back, she was trying to recapture the power of songs like “Silent All These Years” or “Winter” off her last album. But the interesting thing to me is, while stylistically songs like “Icicle,” “Pretty Good Year” and “Cloud On My Tongue” are similar to her earlier works – which, unfortunately, Amos can't avoid – the new songs are by no means clones of the tracks from Little Earthquakes. No, these are their own creations, with their own emotional ties, and they stand well on their own.

Need further proof? Check out the epic “Yes, Anastasia” which closes this disc. Even after playing instruments like piano, guitar, and trumpet in my past (and having dabbled in songwriting as well), I simply don't know how Amos is able to take such sparse instrumentation and turn her song (which is powerful on its own lyrically) into something which makes nine minutes seem like nine seconds. If anything, Amos took the lessons she learned on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Little Earthquakes and showed that she was an outstanding student of her craft.

Yet she finds room to experiment on Under The Pink – and this is sometimes where things go a bit awry. I'll admit I've never been a fan of the singles “God” and “Cornflake Girl,” mainly because neither of them seem to capture the actual essence of Amos's musicianship, instead layering some powerful messages (especially on “God” - “God, sometimes you just don't come through / Do you need a woman to look after you?”) in layers of sonic sludge. It's not that Amos can't write a rock song - “Crucify” off Little Earthquakes proves otherwise – but these two songs just don't have that same kind of lift, both musically and lyrically.

Even some of the basic arrangements don't quite hit the target, to be honest. There is nothing stylistically wrong with “Baker Baker” or “The Wrong Band,” but neither of them has the same kind of emotional punch that a “Yes, Anastasia” does, nor do they have something that grabs the listener lyrically. They're not bad songs, mind you, but they're hardly epics.

Yet some of the experiments work surprisingly well. Amos tries a “prepared piano” on “Bells For Her,” creating one of the most hauntingly beautiful sounds I've heard. One could almost have imagined her using such a technique on a few other songs – but, then again, that might have killed the magic on this particular track. Likewise, bringing in Trent Reznor to provide subdued (!) background vocals on “Past The Mission” – a track fairly powerful on its own – is a stroke of genius, adding just enough tension and angst to the song without destroying its essential beauty.

Even when Amos introduces a little more instrumentation, like on “Space Dog,” she shows again that while piano and vocals are her most powerful weapons in her arsenal, she can deliver just as solid a punch when she incorporates things like drums and guitars into the mix.

Under The Pink might not be as powerful an album overall as Little Earthquakes was, and, to be honest, this disc took a long time for me to warm up to, but it proves to be a worthy follow-up.

Rating: B

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