Tori Amos has an extraordinary fan base. It’s not unusual to hear her listeners explain how a song changed their life, through its ability to alter perspective and heal. Or even that a song might have saved their life. Since the release of her debut Little Earthquakes 20 years ago in 1992, where she smashed apart boundaries with her piano rock and raw, confessional poetry, Amos continues to be adored, picking up new fans along the way, romanced by her messages of empowerment, tenderness, acerbic assertiveness, and that utterly unique sound.
Even before her commercial breakthrough at 28, the enigmatic sides of her personality were being realised: years of classical training at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, singing in clubs and bars from the age of 13 and, then, fronting synthpop band Y Kant Tori Read. A taste for pushing limitations and stretching her talent and imagination had already been planted.
Although her signature remains swelling, filigreed piano rock, she has experimented with different musical styles and instruments over the last twenty years, from the baroque dusk of Boys for Pele (1996), the electronic experimentalism of From the Choirgirl Hotel (1998) and To Venus and Back (1999) to her return to the classical world with the classically inspired song cycle Night of Hunters (2011). She managed to achieve the rarely possible with a successful concept album (American Doll Posse, 2007) and an acclaimed Christmas record (Midwinter Graces, 2009) while retaining her artistic integrity. Her 13th studio album, 2012’s Gold Dust, was a varied selection of works from her songbook all newly arranged for vocals, piano and orchestra, recorded with the Metropole Orchestra for Deutsche Grammophon/Mercury Classics.
Amos, never one to shy away from the reality of life in her lyrics, has tackled the breadth of life’s subjects over the last two decades. Although her writing is confessional and she has famously put her own experiences, both positive and harrowing, into song, the way she does it leaves the door open for the listener to join in.
All of Amos’s albums have been layered with symbols, history and dimensions – elements that make them stand out as true works of art. The Beekeeper (2005) circles around topics of death, loss and adultery; Scarlet’s Walk (2002) maps and re-calibrates the American psyche after 9/11 seen through a prism of the writer’s Cherokee roots; Abnormally Attracted to Sin (2009) is accompanied by a set of short films, each a visualisation of one of the albums songs, whilst Boys for Pele, her first self-produced album, is a virile feminist totem through which she binned the patriarchy and snatched back her independence.
Now, having turned 50 in summer 2013, Tori Amos is an artist working at the height of her powers. October of that year saw the opening in London of The Light Princess, a stage musical co-written by Amos and developed with the National Theatre. Amos first had the idea for the project in 2008, inspired by the 1864 story by Scottish author George MacDonald.
Working with a large creative team and cast, she was energised by the experience – a transformation that is apparent on Amos’s 14th studio album. Unrepentant Geraldines (released in May 2014) is the sound of a singer-songwriter returning with elevating vigour to the intimate songwriting craftsmanship that marked her out as a special talent two decades ago.
And that vigour, and passion, show no signs of abating. In spring 2014, Tori Amos embarked upon an 80-date world tour. Just her, her piano, her songs and her voice. And her ever-bewitching talents.