I listened to an XM Artist Confidential with Tori Amos (when, oh when, will XM make its shows available on demand online?), and it was a reminder of why our favorite piano-playing redhead can be so amazing and yet so infuriating.
Of all the musicians who account for at least three songs in my iPod, she probably leads in the dubious category of “Absolutely Unlistenable Songs.” Sure, Throwing Muses/Kristin Hersh have cranked out some off-the-wall stuff in their day, but they’ve never recorded a full-blown sonic insult like the output you get when Tori is in screech mode.
And she often says things that make you think she wandered out to the mental space inhabited by Stevie Nicks at her New Age height, then kept right on going into the great beyond. (Actually, we could blame other things.) When asked on the XM show about her creative process, she said something about magical pixies — OK, not the exact words, but my brain was simply unable to process what she was saying — who floated around with songs. So her job was to capture them and bring them to light. Or life? I have no idea, but if I see any little pixies trying to inflict the song Ieeee on us, I’m getting a flyswatter.
Then she turns around and says things that are so charming (she is indeed Southern, more or less), down-to-earth and witty that you wonder if all the pixie-ish stuff is an act. Or maybe just two sides of a person whose brain waves would flummox a supercomputer.
And she’s so, so good on the piano. Listen to a couple of her live efforts on To Venus and Back, where she leads her capable band — propelled by omnidimensional drummer Matt Chamberlain — through some reworking of her older songs. She dances around with the hooks on Cornflake Girl and Precious Things like a jazz legend who happened to write Tori Amos songs.
Everyone wants to record and tour with Chamberlain these days, and yet he plays with Tori. That should tell you something.
So with Tori, I’ll take the bad with the good. She may record one horrible album, then turn around with something that has 2-3 brilliant songs. Can’t complain about that.