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Tori Amos—Boys For Pele


Release info:

1996—Atlantic—82862-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

High for those willing to go farther on Tori's journey (Neile)

Group members:

Tori Amos—vocals, Bosendorfer piano, harpsichord, organ, clavichord

Guest artists:

Marcel van Limbeek—Delgany Church bells
George Porter Jr.—bass
Steve Caton—guitars, swells, mandolin
James Watson—trumpet
Alan Friedman—Drum Programming, effects
Manu Katche—drums
Clarence J. Johnson III—soprano sax, tenor sax
Darryl Lewis, Mark Sterling, Mervin Sterling, Sam Berfect, Jack Trimble, James Crawford Jr., Gus McField Jr.—gospel choir
Mino Cinelu—percussion
Tracy Griffin—flugelhorn
Brian Graber—flugelhorn
Mark Mullins—trombone
Craig Klein—sousaphone, horn arrangement
Michael Deegan—bagpipes
Bernard Quinn—bagpipes
Nancy Shanks—additional vocals
Black Dyke Mills Band—brass
James Watson—brass conductor

Produced by:

Tori Amos

Comments:

I am on a train moving through New England, past frozen rivers dusted with newfallen snow. The cloudy sky is as white as the ground. Boats sit anchored in icy harbors; farther out, in the restless Atlantic, I watch as a swan's long white neck and gracefully tapered head disappear under the water's surface. The train travels quickly enough that I can only glimpse the bare branches of trees and snow-covered fields. As soon as I focus on something, it is already passing from my range of vision.
     I feel the same way about music sometimes. I savor a vocal mannerism or a turn of phrase, but it's over in an instant, the song moving along as restlessly and relentlessly as the New England scenery outside my window. The difference, of course, is that I can press the rewind button on my Walkman, but to do so would spoil the moment. And I'm already relishing, or anticipating, the next singular note or line.
     The new Tori Amos album, Boys for Pele, is named after a volcano goddess, but its rightness as a soundtrack for this wintry day makes it seem as bright and diamond-sharp as the ice on a pond. On several songs, Tori has replaced her faithful Boesendorfer with a harpsichord, which doesn't have the warmth of tone of a piano; using it, the artist surrenders her ability to play quietly, or to move from a pianissimo passage to a grand, crashing forte.
     At first, the archaic instrument seems jarringly brittle. But the first song which features it prominently, "Blood Roses," spins a dark tale that makes the harpsichord's chilly beauty seem perfectly appropriate. Some of the lyrics seem inspired by Anne Rice's vampire chronicles, while others suggest the survivor of a soured love affair who has moved from grief to anger to, finally, cold resignation: "I've shaved every place where you've been, boy."
     It's hard not to think of Tori's own loss of love (her breakup with longtime boyfriend Eric Rosse) while listening to songs like "Putting the Damage On," "Hey Jupiter" and the heartbreaking "Doughnut Song." Other tracks deal with different kinds of loss—the subject of "Marianne," a lush piano ballad with string orchestration, is a woman who killed herself. And the sweetly-sung "Horses," like Little Earthquakes's "Mother" and "Winter," presents a portrait of girlhood memories that seem almost vivid enough to touch.
     The album's most daring number is "Professional Widow," which sounds heavily influenced by Tori's friend Polly Harvey and suggests what might have resulted if Polly had taken up harpsichord instead of guitar. Its tempo is similar to "God," and the lyrics are bitter and profane: "Starfucker, just like my daddy." With a cleaned-up chorus, this could be a single.
     Also adventurous is "In the Springtime of His Voodoo," which starts with what sounds like vocal improvisation and sports a low, rumbly piano melody. Tori refers to Star Trek in the lyric and at one point, growls: "Got an angry snatch, girls, you know what I mean."
     My favorite track is the slightly jazzy "Mohammad My Friend," which is the only one on the album to mention the titular goddess: "You've never seen fire, until you've seen Pele blow." The provocative lyrics are pure Tori: "Mohammad my friend, it's time to tell the world, we both know it was a girl back in Bethlehem." A saxophone provides a sultry counterpoint to Tori's smooth vocals.
     Anyone who cherished Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink knows that Tori is capable of creating glorious songs that engage a listener's emotions. Boys For Pele has neither the heart-in-throat element of discovery of Little Earthquakes, nor does it indulge in the lyrical flights of fancy of Under the Pink tracks like "Space Dog." But it is a remarkably rich musical tapestry, and full of those moments that tempt me to hit "rewind"—the Kate Bush-like upper register singing in "Way Down," the goofily whimsical song-fragment "Mr. Zebra," the ethereal backing vocals in "Caught a Lite Sneeze," the unexpectedly playful bridge of "Professional Widow."
     As the snowy scenery speeds by, though, I don't want to break the mood. I will listen straight through until the very end of "Twinkle," a fragile solo piano piece that closes the album but never resolves, stopping abruptly. And it occurs to me that whether I listen to Boys for Pele on a swiftly-moving train or at home, afterwards I will feel as though I've traveled somewhere. And that I'm witnessing a kind of miracle: I'm peeking into the volcano, and it's snowing inside. (trow@interbridge.com)
———

Wow. Words do not exist to describe just how incredibly, amazingly, unbelievably fucking BRILLIANT this album is. Nothing has slammed me up against the wall, throttled me, then melted me into a quivering pool of jelly on the first listen like this since Sarah McLachlan's Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. I'm one of the three people on the planet who think that Boys For Pele is a masterwork of the highest order. So what if the lyrics don't spell themselves out for you on first listen? I like music that makes you think. Metaphor is what makes poetry, well, poetry.
     "Professional Widow" in particular really hit me—she's channeling Zeppelin straight through her harpsichord, and it totally cracks me up but it *works*. Her voice in "Blood Roses" is literally stunning in its power. "In The Springtime Of His Voodoo" hit me quite hard as well.
     And while I know I'm going to hate myself someday for saying this, there are some unmistakably Kate Bush-like moments on this disc, particularly where backing vocals and the use of certain background sounds is concerned. There will be those who will compare this to The Dreaming, and I'll know exactly where they're coming from.
     Of course, Tori channels herself in a few spots too—there are some familiar musical and lyrical themes, and the chorus of "Muhammad My Friend" sounds just like "Sweet Dreams".
     Finally, I don't believe for a minute the bullpuckey Tori was spouting on eMpTV about how this isn't a "breakup album". Take one look at the lyrics (especially those of "Hey Jupiter") and you'll see what I mean. This is her "Fuck you, Eric" album, and while it may not be the most charitable thing to say, maybe she should get screwed over more often. :}
     There's some weird shit going on (especially in "Professional Widow", which continues to totally crack me up—goddess, I love that song!), but it's all quintessentially Tori, even when she's delving into piano blues later on. She's not doing anything that's going to make most people run screaming from the room (unless you can't handle anything involving the harpsichord, I guess). I think she's created some of her most haunting and beautiful melodies yet, and musically she's not doing anything really different from what we've come to expect from her. Hell, if anything she's taken a few things away—we don't have any virtuoso piano-wanking a la "Precious Things" or "Cornflake Girl" on this album, for example.
     Based on what I've heard her say about it so far, it's mostly about the place where you go when you're going through a really unpleasant time—your own personal hell, or private Idaho or whatever. In this case the unpleasant time was brought about by a man, which led her to think about the relationships she's had with men throughout her life (from "Ed is watching my every sound" straight through to "you sure are pretty when you're putting the damage on"), and by association that got her to thinking about the whole patriarchal religion thing again ("Muhammad my friend/it's time to tell the world/we both know it was a girl/back in Bethlehem"). She's said it's a novel about the journey down into that place and back, and I think this story has a happy ending: "But I can see that star when she twinkles/and she twinkles/and I sure can/that means I sure can".
     Not timid, no. She ends it in "Twinkle" with the resigned voice of the survivor who has just come to the realization that she can make it through this, she *will* come out all right in the end. What can I say, the woman is a goddess and this is a masterwork of the highest order. Within a few days of its release, I knew it was going to be the album of the year.
     Boys For Pele is by far Tori's masterwork. I don't expect her ever to surpass it, but it'll be a nice bonus to us all if she does. :).
     I guess everyone's experience with the album is going to be unique. While I've never gone through what Tori went through to inspire her to make Boys For Pele, for some reason the first time I listened to it I was completely, utterly blown away. I was driving home and by the last notes of "Twinkle" I could barely keep my car on the road. I couldn't even start it over again for some minutes...I had to just shut the stereo off and drive in silence for a while until I had composed myself enough to be able to listen again. I still don't know what exactly it is, but something in me connected with that album on a very, very deep level. In my mind, only a masterwork of the highest order can do that.
     I have no idea why anyone would call it "masturbatory". I'm genuinely curious. I find this reaction to the album as fascinating as it is unfathomable. Is it because some of the songs were written as they were being recorded? That's not the first time she's done that ("Thoughts", "Bells For Her"). Is it because she experimented with different instrumentation? If anything I'd call from the choirgirl hotel more masturbatory than Boys For Pele on that front—all those keyboard doohickies going on. Is it because she was singing about deeply personal emotional things? What was Little Earthquakes, then? I agree that Little Earthquakes was an emotional powerhouse, but it pales in comparison to Boys For Pele when it comes to that, in my opinion. Little Earthquakes will always have a special place in my heart, but now, over 6 years later, it doesn't pack the wallop that I'm sure Boys For Pele will 20 years down the line. I don't have to be in a special frame of mind to listen to Little Earthquakes, but I do with Boys For Pele—sometimes a misplaced listen to that disc has messed me up for days. (meth@smoe.org)
———

first of all, why is anyone describing this album as "inaccessible"? i may be jaded by other music i listen to, but i don't find this album at all hard to listen to. it's fluid and easy on the ears. yes, it may not appeal to the "mainstream" (whatever that is anymore), but i'd be hard-pressed to say that this album is *difficult* to listen to. is this just a misunderstanding of terminology?
     second, i don't think this record can at all be described as tori's "the dreaming". yes, she's doing some odd things here and there and, yes, there are some differences between this record and her previous ones, but the gap between under the pink and boys for pele is nothing like the jump from never for ever to the dreaming. i just don't see it at all.
     third, i rather like the change in tone from the beginning of the record to the end. it begins fierce and ends on a very quiet, perhaps timid note. she could have called this record march.
     fourth, what's the big hang-up that folks (reviewers mostly, but some lay listeners as well) have with the lyrics? i understand that most people focus on lyrics as opposed to music (as i do) and that finding a connection to the words is often key to liking a song...but the phrase here and there that i've caught, while cryptic, aren't utterly opaque. tori has a logic to her choice of words, and it's not straightforward by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not mud. it's just poetry. some may claim that poetry (or any form of expression) without communication of ideas is pointless, but it's as important for tori to say what she says for herself as it's important to those who grasp her lyrics and vest them with some personal meaning.
     there is a ton of musical neatness going on here (from the obvious harpsichord to the subtle piano-through-guitar-effects-pedals) to keep us toneheads happy for a long while. :) (woj@smoe.org)
———

the new album is just *phenomenal*.
     The arrangements are incredible...Tori's style was just *made* for the harpsichord...funny how I never noticed it before. ;-)
     The album isn't for everyone. I don't think it's nearly as accessible as earlier albums. Lyrically, it's still a mystery to me. I'm starting to get ideas of what some songs are about, but it'll take a while to sort through what the hell she might be talking about.
     To my ear, there are plenty of songs on Boys for Pele that sounds completely unlike anything Tori's done before. It's mostly in the arrangements...particularly the use of brass. I think this album shows major experimentation for Tori, both in her keyed instruments but also the rest of the arrangement. Right now, "Father Lucifer" is one of my favorite tracks, and the trumpet really adds a tremendous amount to the piece. Very non-Tori, but geez, how it works.
     By the way, anyone else notice a lot of Beatles influence, particularly in "Mr. Zebra" (also a great track)? (burka@jeffrey.net)
———

So far my impressions are mixed. Even after reading the review and carefully sitting down to listen to the album with the lyrics sheet, I don't have a clue as to what the album is really about.
     But I guess that's the enigmatic Tori we've all grown to love. Musically, as well, this album does not offer much that is immediately accessible. No real toe-tapping radio-friendly numbers, and no particularly beautiful ballads. Instead we get an amazingly complex work, rooted in its mythology, that will give people plenty to discuss and analyze.
     I find myself quite intrigued by the new album. Yes, it's strange. Yes, she moans, breathes, screeches and sighs, stretching out syllables and generally having fits of histrionics. But despite all this, I find myself liking it, being drawn in, wanting to uncover just what it is she's trying to say. And certain moments are so emotionally intense that you find yourself holding your breath—completely captivated. The nice thing about her vague lyrics is that her striking imagery can speak at some levels to almost everyone—though I would seriously question anyone but Tori who tried to give definitive interpretations, (and to be honest, I'd probably also question Tori's interpretations). And, with her lyrics, she seems to be building her own personal mythology—usually symbolism, musical snippets, and lyrics borrowed from previous songs, and others.
     Tori fans will definitely like the album—but I certainly don't see her winning any new fans with this effort. All the critics who have called her pretentious and affected will have more fuel to add to their fire, but those who sit down with the album, study it, listen closely, will be rewarded, but most likely in ways that they can't explain very well. To me, Tori just keeps getting weirder, and not in a good way. Yes, this album is full of genius, but I guess I wish I understood it better. Tori, through either a turn of a phrase or a sigh or her breath used to be able to really touch me. Now, it usually comes across as forced and affected. But this album still ranks high for me, because despite its faults, it's still better than most everything else. (jjhanson@att.net)
———

A mysterious, powerful, confusing, remarkable, fun and occasionally frightening journey into the mind and spirit of a daring artist. Amazing. Her greatest work yet. I'm at the stage with this album that I feel sorry for people who don't love it as much as I do. I think it's definitely Tori's best album, but then I liked Under the Pink better than Little Earthquakes, which I gather is a minority opinion.
     If Boys for Pele is a mess as some assert, it's a brilliant, beautiful mess. Better excess and brilliance and beauty than the constraint that trying to do another Little Earthquakes would be for her now. She's more expansive than that now, musically and lyrically. I think Boys for Pele shows major growth as an artist. She's so far beyond the tidy little pop song you can't even see its dust anymore as you could in Little Earthquakes.
     I'm grateful that she's willing to break loose and make amazing, ever-more-powerful music that challenges both herself and her audience.
     "Blood Roses" might be my favourite Tori song for the harpsichord and the intensity of her vocals. I don't hear any squawking in the song at all, just rocking harpsichord (my favourite instrument used as a rock instrument—wow!) and Tori singing one of her most fiercely beautiful songs.
      I can't imagine a more evocative album. (Neile)
———

i feel there are some really great moments in the album. but on the whole it fails to hold my interest. and i wonder why. i have had the album for about a month and have tried and tried to like the album as much as everyone else seems to. when i first listened it, i thought, hmmm...new tori, not bad. then i listened to it some more and i thought, wow this is pretty damn good. now i back to, ho hum, more tori, i think i would rather listen to Little Earthquakes.
     it is not a very tight album. in fact it is a sloppy album i feel. a rambling derivative album that has some great moments, but are lost in the rest of the somewhat mediocre muck. a lot of the album makes me feel like tori was just fooling around in the studio. i really feel it needs a tighter focus and a tighter arrangement. the album probably would have been better if there was 20 minutes cut out.
     i am not slamming tori for just using the piano and her voice. songs like "hey jupiter" work fairly well (though it goes on one too many verses), as does my favorite song "Father Lucifer". but there aren't that many hooks to draw the audience and when you leave out the hooks, and you make a long rambling CD.
     Boys for Pele is not horrible. far from there. but in relation to what i have heard in the past and what i KNOW she is capable of, it is less than satisfactory. i must have made the album sound like it was one of the worst things i have heard. it isn't. but it isn't nearly what i wanted or wished it to be. i just thought that it was beyond messy, more like downright surface ramblings. (iflin@speakeasy.net)
———

It's as good as it can be. Sure, it's not Under the Pink, or even Little Earthquakes, but it's great because it's Tori. Sorry, but I can't see why anybody would *not* like this. Maybe I've just been hankerin' for new music anyway. ;-) Or maybe I just like Tori. (Matt.Bittner)
———

She seems to have become her own person artistically. I'll admit that nothing jumped out at me for the first listen or three. I'd heard "Caught a light sneeze" from the web site and like it (though it made me expect another derivative album—Tori does The Dreaming—so it screamed out at me. But the rest seemed to be in moods. After listening to Boys for Pele too much I really like these moods. The places where she slips into the piano boogie bits are fun. I like them. Her voice has changed for me—I no longer hear Kate Bush—now I hear her undulate through words. I like this too.
     But the lyrics. I don't understand them. Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink weren't this difficult, were they? I don't think this is all that inaccessible. Though the lyrics may make it radio difficult. (brad@lightfallsdesign.com)
———

It's interesting, and a little confusing, to me that people are having so much of a problem understanding the album. Most of it seems pretty clear as nose on face to me, which might just mean I'm in a place in my life similar to where Tori was when she wrote it. There *are* moments that completely confound me though. ;>
     Honestly, I find Boys For Pele far more accessible than Under The Pink was. Maybe I'm just weird.
     "Caught A Lite Sneeze" is very radio friendly (which is why it was chosen as the single, I guess, heh :), and I think "Talula", and to a lesser degree "Professional Widow", are radio friendly as well (maybe not toe-tapping, but radio friendly). "Putting The Damage On" could make it as well—it's a beautiful but simple ballad, which brings me to the particularly beautiful ballads point. In my opinion, Boys For Pele contains some of the most gorgeous ballads ever written, ever! "Hey Jupiter" is absolutely haunting, and "Doughnut Song" puts a lump in my throat every time. "Putting The Damage On" is incredibly beautiful....
     I doubt it'll win her as many new fans as Under The Pink, did, but I can honestly say, if Boys For Pele were my introduction to Tori, I'd love her madly on first listen, because this is just brilliant work. I think it's one of the most instantly likable, i.e., accessible, things I've ever heard in my life. Absolutely beautiful music, gorgeous voice, provocative lyrics....
     My first impressions have just gone up (my first thought: Good gods, that woman is brilliant. My second thought: Good GODS that woman is INCREDIBLY BRILLIANT!) The whole album is brilliant, the arrangements stunning, and gods, that voice.... (NyxNight@aol.com)
———

On my first listen to it the word that came to my mind first and foremost was *OWCH!* them's some pretty big wounds there girlfriend!!! I think it's brilliant. and yes...a departure from her previous work. But the *way* she sings...the emotion...is so very very very raw and painful. maaaaan...especially on "Hey Jupiter" and "Blood Roses"...different vocal effects in places made her voice sound very un-Tori like. (maybe less compression). and while I can't explain what it means—in feeling it's like experiencing someone having a profound emotional or religious experience (like the emotion you see displayed at funerals...to try and explain...you could almost hear her getting "choked up" in spots). As for the photos I'm just going to say I think they're ALL tastefully done.... and the only thing I can see in her expression is...well...sadness.
     But I'll spare y'all more analysis and just say toss my name in the hat with those of you who really like this work. It may not be "accessible" or even something I can listen to all the time (because of the level of emotion)...but...oh...Tori...*sigh* at least when she gets through this whole ordeal her next project will probably be so upbeat...so offbeat that we'll be saying "gee what a departure from her previous stuff"...that's what makes her so intriguing! (groovy@his.com)
———

I have to admit that when I first played the album I was *massively* disappointed. However, something clicked after the third or fourth listen, and I think I'm really going to like it. A lot of this album doesn't work at all on cassette—there's too much super-subtle, ultra-quiet nuance in there. It's quite wonderful. :-) (ahoran@ozemail.com.au)
———

I guess Boys For Pele is more similar to Under The Pink than Little Earthquakes, and people who weren't too fond of Under The Pink probably won't like it very much either. It's certainly a lot less accessible, at least in my opinion, than Little Earthquakes or Under The Pink, but after a few listens I started to discover its hidden treasures. I think Tori has delivered another masterpiece. (lombaeg@donald.interpac.be)
———

I like it :) It's taken a little growing, but there is some absolutely stunning stuff on there. (c.boek@ee.mu.OZ.AU)
———

Count me as someone who's been quite taken with Boys For Pele. At this point, I'd say I like it better than Under The Pink but not as much as Little Earthquakes. It's a very powerful album and I love the harpsichord. (bvmi@odin.cc.pdx.edu)
———

I think Boys For Pele needs more than one listen to "get", but I also think that this is one that you'll need to listen to right the way through as a whole album. It doesn't seem to me like a collection of individual songs, in the way the other two were, but that the tracks seemed more to play the role of individual movements of a symphony.
     My recommendation is to sit down with your eyes closed and listen right the way through a couple of times. If you still don't like it then the interface between your ears and your brain may be faulty, and you should see about getting it repaired under warrantee. (anthony@mh1.lbl.gov)
———

Boys For Pele, Tori Amos: Hmm. Well. Hmm. I like it, especially the harpsichords, although she hasn't really wowed me with much of anything she's done after Little Earthquakes. Which is not to say that it's inferior. It has a high probability of really clicking for me, just not yet. (stevev@hexadecimal.uoregon.edu)
———

Just wanted to say that I really really enjoy the latest Tori Amos album—it seems much less poppy/top 40 than her last two and there aren't any songs (okay, except for the "starfucker, just like my daddy" song which makes me wrinkle my nose) that I don't have a bunch of fun listening to. (sagetodd@postoffice.ptd.net)
———

as for Boys For Pele, i LOVE it: best album yet from Tori in my opinion...especially "marianne," "father lucifer," "horses," the horns on "mr. zebra," the harpsichord on "prof. widow,: the piglet picture, it's all great!! can't wait to see her this time around! (cjmacs@micronet.net)
———

I've had Boys For Pele almost exclusively in my cd player. I was quite excited by it and quite affected by a number of the songs. Hopefully, through repeated listenings I will be able to absorb the meanings behind some of the songs...I still don't know what "SpaceDog" is about from Under The Pink ;-). The songs I really have a sense for are the slow ones. For some reason I know *exactly* what those are about. I get the sense for "Caught A Lite a Sneeze," "Hey Jupiter," "Not the Red Baron," "Doughnut Song," "Putting the Damage On" and "Twinkle." The opening of the cd takes my breath away..."Beauty Queen" going into "Horses." I get the real sense of a narrative from the overall album and the beginning takes me from a sunny meadow into a storm and off into the dark wild woods for a scary walk. I will see her in concert this year hell or high water! (V115P8D6@ubvms.cc.buffalo.edu)
———

My first impression of Boys For Pele was similar to my first impression of Under The Pink—on the whole, it didn't really "grab" me, but there were one or two songs that I instantly fell in love with ("Hey Jupiter" and "Putting the Damage On"in this case). I have since listened to it more, and I now love the whole CD, as was the case with Under The Pink. (CSARIS@upe.ac.za)
———

I must admit that I was a bit hesitant about Boys For Pele. I had become a bit overfed with Tori, and I wasn't really sure whether I would like the direction she was heading in. "Caught a lite sneeze" was promising, but I didn't like the various 'B-sides', though I'll probably have to listen to them again now that I'm more familiar with the songs on Boys for Pele.
     When the album came out I had a listen in a music shop, and I found it difficult to listen to. But I bought it anyway, and backed up by all the talk about it on Ecto I waited until I had the time to listen to it carefully all the way through, from beginning to end instead of just bits and pieces, on my headphones—and then I loved it! Very intense....
     But the next couple of hearings again didn't do much for me. It's certainly not an album to listen to in the background, it does become a bit of a blur then, and doesn't seem to go anywhere. On the other hand it's a very addictive album, I can't stop listening to it and I want to delve deeper into it, until it really clicks—and I really want it to click again like it did on that first full hearing. So I made myself tapes to play on my walkman on my way to work (about 20 minutes) with various selections, skipping different tracks each time. Listening to those selections gives me the possibility to get to know each of the songs better on their own, and then they can take their place back on the album.
     I ended up including more and more tracks, but I still usually skip "Professional widow", "Muhammad my friend", "Talula" and "In the springtime of his voodoo"—I do indeed prefer the quieter songs. Favourite tracks from the beginning and still now are "Horses", "Mr Zebra", and "Hey Jupiter". (Marion)
———

Boys for Pele is the greatest release of '96, and Tori's best yet in my opinion. (garrick@area51.upsu.plym.ac.uk)
———

Stunning, brilliant, amazing, extraordinary...well, I think you get the idea. Most of the songs on Boys for Pele do move me (and I do think that overall it's a great album), but at times I think the musical experimentation overshadows the emotional content of the lyrics. (mcurry@io.com)
———

I don't think I will ever get tired of hearing this one. Every time I listen to it, I discover something new and wonderful. An instant masterpiece. Boys for Pele is without a doubt my favorite Tori CD, Tori's greatest achievement and quite possibly my favorite album by anyone ever. Yet, almost ever Tori fan I know thinks it's a huge disappointment, and I don't know why. I often feel like I'm in a minority when I rave about it. To me, it's Tori's The Dreaming. They're both often messy, experimental, and impossible to fathom, but that doesn't make either one any less of a masterpiece. In fact, those factors actually *contribute* to my love of both. I have to admit, the first time I read through the lyrics, I thought, "What the hell is this?" But now, not only do I think they are brilliant, but I actually understand many (but by no means all) of Tori's bizarre allusions. The lyrics are definitely something that make you ponder for a while, which I think is a good thing. I can listen to Boys for Pele any time. To me, it's very emotional, but not in an uncomfortable way. (stuart@sph.emory.edu)
———

I would put that on a list of 1996's top 10 with the qualification that I think it needed editing. The woman is a goddess, but this year she misplaced the wastebasket. Or maybe since I haven't seen Tori live yet, I just prefer a less cluttered approach for a CD. (Kelley.Hays-Gilpin@nau.edu)
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boys for pele is also [like Little Earthquakes] an intensely personal record, but far less open in the sense i'm trying to convey. (this is more structural than lyrical, by the way) the first several times i listened to boys for pele i had the impression that there were several finished songs and tons of unfinished, half-baked germs of songs, of widely varying quality. (at this point i would have agreed with the term "masturbatory," or at least "self-indulgent"). for me the turning point was dubbing a heap of copies of an acoustic performance for people; with repeated exposure to those songs, stripped down to just vocal and piano, something clicked—like when you look at those cubes and they pop in and out?—snapping into a new perspective, and suddenly songs that had seemed meandering, unfocused, unstructured—made sense. i think in a tiny way, i got into tori's head, seeing aspects of the songs from the same perspective as their author. armed with this revelation, i went back to the record, and suddenly i found an awful lot more than had been there for me before.
     boys for pele's lyrics also use a more personal iconography than Little Earthquakes', but the real barrier to my appreciation of the record was the unfinishedness of it that i initially perceived. if i'd never heard the acoustic performances, i'd probably still be in the "ehhh..." camp. as it as, i think Little Earthquakes is the superior record, but by a pretty slim margin. i now think of it as "inaccessible" for sure, but not nearly as self-indulgent as on first blush. (dmw@mwmw.com)
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For me, it seemed that Boys for Pele was musically and lyrically "out there" for the sake of being "out there". I found nothing to relate to. While I certainly don't think that all music has to be accessible and all lyrics don't have to be interpretable, a whole album of it was too much for me. It kind of reminds me of the progression that marked Rickie Lee Jones' releases. First one was catchy...then the lyrics started to be a little too obscure...and the music was a little more abstract...and it just kept going...and going. As others have remarked, Boys for Pele seems self-indulgent to me. However, the conclusion I drew from what was written about this release, both pro and con, is that while the masses did not find a connection with this album, there *is* a very specific audience that finds a deep emotional and artistic connection with it. I'm not sure what the common thread is among those who consider it her masterwork, but albeit an apparent minority, there is strong Boys for Pele following. (JavaHo@aol.com)
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This is a desert island disc for me. (bye@humnet.ucla.edu)
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i *respect* Boys For Pele a lot—it's got a restless neurotic energy that i find fascinating, but it's so mannered and perverse that the overall effect for me is annoyance (and that from a guy who can listen to entire David Sylvian albums without flinching!) i'm very glad she made the album, but i don't even know where my copy is.... (bossert@suddensound.com)
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I used to love Tori, but since Boys For Pele, I have lost complete interest in her. I think the only thing I liked about that disc was the use of a harpsichord. (sherm@tardis.roc.servtech.com)
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Personally, I find Boys For Pele to be Tori's masterwork. (stunning@tezcat.com)
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I enjoy "Caught a Lite Sneeze" and "Hey Jupiter". I also like the "Mr. Zebra" song because it seems, for some reason, to remind me of some sort of shamanic transformation. Or something. And it's a bit silly (I can deal with silly). "Blood Roses" is a difficult song—I didn't immediately like it, but find it now one of the most moving and evocative, especially after knowing it is related to Alice Walker's Possessing the Secret of Joy. It is just very moving—reminds me of the main character up in her room painting larger and larger roosters, being obsessed, drawing them on the wall as she is remembering when they performed the clitoridectomy that killed her sister (trouble remembering plot here, it's been a while), and the person who performed it is tossing the result to the pecking chickens / roosters casually and they scramble for the leftovers like a tasty treat. The suppressed memory surfacing. I don't know if it would have the same effect reading the book *after* hearing the song, but it is certainly one song I don't play all the time—too emotionally devastating. But certainly a song which has a profound effect on me. (rholmes@cs.Stanford.EDU)
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On a rare whim, I listened to Boys for Pele for the first time in a while last night, and the album, which I had greatly disliked, clicked for me for the first time. I found I was listening to it not individual songs, but a fairly consistent soundscape with interconnected, oblique lyrics, to wander around in for an hour. It might be that I'm preparing to go into the studio to do an hour-long piece, or that I was in the right mood to sink into the musical swamp...but it worked. Hmm. It's obviously not exclusionary to her whole audience, since lots of people here love it. I started off hating it and am slowly warming to aspects of it. (jzitt@humansystems.com)
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I was recently in the camp of "self-indulgent and I can't relate"—even traded in the CD for about a year and then just recently bought it again, after enjoying from the choirgirl hotel. And I'm liking it a lot better now. It's still not my fave Tori release, but it's growing on me. (bravegirl@earthlink.net)
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Boys for Pele blows me away big time, from the choirgirl hotel does very little for me. I love the variety and intensity on Boys for Pele. Some of the ideas on there are ones which I would have loved to see developed further (the gospel choir, the brass band). Probably just shades the previous 2 albums in my mind. (BridgesM@logica.com)
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Tori lost me with Boys for Pele. That album (in my opinion) was an embarrassment, an exercise in utter self-indulgence. The thing is, though, that even Boys for Pele has its gems. I believe that my all-time favorite Tori Amos song is "Putting the Damage On", so I can't really hate Boys for Pele all that much!! Plus, I love "Hey Jupiter", "Marianne", "Doughnut Song", "Caught a Lite Sneeze" and "Horses". It's just that, for some reason, when I think of Boys for Pele I think of Tori squawking like a chicken on "Blood Roses"—a song I otherwise like except for the squawking!! And "Professional Widow"? No, thanks. That is always what I think of when I think of Boys for Pele. It's just one of those things: I don't WANT to dwell on that, but there it is! It just pops up in my head. So let's just say that, for me, it's an uneven work. By Tori Amos standards. By regular artist standards it would be great!! But I really had to give Tori a re-thinking because of that album. (loefflep@mis.finchcms.edu)
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Boys for Pele is easily my favorite album...I *love* the harpsichord. I like cryptic songwriting and dark music/lyrics. (Faerymouse@aol.com)
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The word that instantly popped into my mind when I first listened to Boys for Pele was "affected". I had exactly the same reaction to the visual of Tori on Leno or Letterman a few years ago, as I watched her gyrate on the piano bench and achieve an NC-17 level of intimacy with the microphone. Given my impression of obvious affectation (and self-indulgence), I haven't had any desire to listen to Boys for Pele again since it was new; after all the talk here, I feel somewhat obliged to try again. (Greg.Jumper@Eng.Sun.COM)
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Boys for Pele did less than nothing for me. (iclysdal@redmaple.yi.org)
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I never understood boys for pele until hearing live recordings from that era. (k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)
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As an album, it's my least favourite Tori album. I like the individual songs, but I think that the album is too long by about 20 minutes. For that matter, I vastly prefer live versions of all of the songs. (nadyne@little-blue-world.org)
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Pele is right up there with my favorites, I can't think of any songs I wish weren't on there (Maybe "Twinkle" but it's a nice little song). I love the intimate "storytelling" atmosphere on Pele. those are some of my favorite of her lyrics and the music is great too... (onyx@vianet.ca)
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It's not my favorite for sure. Actually, I'm not sure where I'd place Pele right now. Might be nearer the bottom. There are some songs on that one I'd ditch; "Way Down" and "Agent Orange" just aren't to my taste. I think that it's probably her most lyrically obtuse album, with songs like "Mr Zebra" that never made much sense to me. But I like it overall. (jchigdon@mindspring.com)
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Boys for Pele is remarkable if only for the piano work. Awesome. And the vocals on "Father Lucifer" are to die for. (dbailey4117@gmail.com)

Tori Amos' other recordings:

The main Tori Amos page


Thanks to JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.

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