TORI AMOS – ” Little Earthquakes ” Released January 6th 1992

Posted: January 6, 2022 in MUSIC

This week, Tori Amos’s debut album turns 30 years old. It was on January 6th 1992 that one of pop’s most original singer-songwriters unleashed the seminal “Little Earthquakes” into the hands of the world. Things have never been quite the same for the singer – or her legion of fans – ever since. The album contains what would become the classics of not only her own career, but of the wider musical landscape of its time.

It’s hard to believe that the vibrant and virtuosic pianist hit the popular music scene all those years ago; the passage of time appears to move swiftly in the world of entertainment. Yet as long ago as it was, “Little Earthquakes” has proven to be an album that easily stands the test of time.

Amos is still releasing powerful music to this day (in October of 2021, she released the critically acclaimed “Ocean To Ocean“). In truth, it’s hard to comprehend Amos expressing herself so fully in any other medium; her music, literally, seems to be her language. Her musical journey might not have begun with “Little Earthquakes” (the singer had previously released an album with band “Y Kant Tori Read“, and had been composing music since she was a young child), but it certainly launched the artist’s solo career in a way no one could have imagined.

Little Earthquakes” is an album of honesty and introspection. Amos’s upbringing certainly seems to have provided her with the ingredients she needed to flavour the release. There is something of Amos’s early years that appear to bring a very dominant influence to her creative table at this time. In “Little Earthquakes” – as with many of her later releases – her early familial ties strongly season her song writing. Her mother an academic, avid lover of books and a deeply spiritual person – appears to be hugely inspirational to Amos. Coupling this with her father’s towering influence – he was a Methodist Minister – it is easy to see how the scene was set early on for an immensely charged and creative awakening for Tori Amos. The seeds for “Little Earthquakes” were planted long before Amos probably ever placed her fingers to the piano to begin composing it.

Released via Atlantic Records, Tori Amos worked with her then-partner, producer Eric Rosse. Recorded between 1990-1991, the 12 track album appeared to serve as a confessional for the singer. Dark, honest, brooding and at times explicit, in “Little Earthquakes”, Amos clearly wanted to pull back the veneer of what it meant to be a woman in a world constantly asking her to compromise who she was, as a person and an artist (if the two could ever be divided).

It seems evident in the listening that “Little Earthquakes” was moulded and stitched together from Amos’s own life and experiences, making it a remarkably emotional affair. In the opening track, Crucify, fans hear the singer breaking free from many of the constraints and chains that religion has placed upon her. It’s a defiant song, certainly empowering for those imprisoned by their own beliefs and struggling to break the hold they have.

Me and a Gun” was the first single be lifted from “Little Earthquakes“, and it certainly made a mark. A track that soon became a live staple on her world tours, the composition was almost shocking in its open exploration of a deeply upsetting and traumatic memory. “Me and a Gun” rapidly became the talking point of her early career: here we had this exquisite artist who traded as a pianist and yet she left her instrument behind to perform acapella. In this moment, Amos seemed to need no accompaniment. Everything else was stripped away – her voice, her words and her experience carried everything. The subject that Amos sings about makes the listener sit up and pay attention; in live shows, the audience could hear a pin drop, such was the reverence to the track. “Me and a Gun” is an example of how brave Amos was as an artist – to share that experience with the world highlighted her fearlessness as a composer. More than this, it helped pave the way for future generations – to help victims of abuse to find their voice, and to tell their story.

In the infectiously memorable track “Girl”, Amos sings of an inner fight – of trying to reclaim yourself from the deep-rooted need for other people’s approval. To finally be able to belong to yourself, in self-belief, without compromise, without worrying about the judgement of others. It’s a track that breaks down the shackles of ownership.

In the enchanting and almost fairytale-like track “Winter”, Amos sings smoothly about the innocence of childhood, and of looking back at years gone by. She sings of a relationship with an older patriarch and lands her listeners firmly into a dreamlike state with her vocal delivery and the delicately haunting piano which shrouds it.

In “Silent All These Years”, Amos sings of reclaiming one’s own voice back after years of being silenced. It’s a song of recovery, of pulling back everything that has been stolen. As in the track “Girl”, this song feels like a tribute to ownership, and of taking that which has been stolen and hijacked by others. “Silent All These Years” is more relevant than ever, especially in light of the MeToo movement where so many are encouraged to find their voice and speak up about their experiences. Seen in this light, it is clear how far ahead of the curve Amos was as an artist even back then.

For “Happy Phantom”, Amos worked with composer and musician John Philip Shenale, her long-time collaborator. A tale of death, “Happy Phantom” is a quirky, uptempo track that unveils Amos’s vibrant humour and wit.

One of the undeniable diamonds of the album is the epic track “Precious Things”. Amos’s impassioned vocals bring this 5 minute gem to life, with the song’s majestic riff dragging the listener in and refusing to let go. It’s a remarkably dark and edgy track. “He said you’re really an ugly girl, but I like the way you play…” In this song perhaps more than any other on the album, Amos showcases the depth of her unfiltered song writing, with a cutting brutality which set her apart from her contemporaries of the time.

When “Little Earthquakes” arrived in 1992, the landscape of the alternative music scene was almost exclusively dominated by male voices. With the grunge movement finally penetrating into the mainstream and bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam becoming household names, Amos was a lone female voice in a sea of masculinity. Perhaps the reason why her debut resonated so deeply at the time was due to the fact that the singer/songwriter was brave and bold enough to share her own lived experiences with the world, ones which a man simply couldn’t have written.

Whilst a song like “Precious Things” shatters the peace, the title-track itself is an ocean of quieter reflection. “These little earthquakes, here we go again…doesn’t take much to rip us into pieces,” Amos sings in the album finale. The album closes the doors with this introspective 7 minute epic which is a deliciously melancholic affair. In the latter section, Amos punches in with her dramatic, spine-tingling soprano vocals as she repeatedly sings, “I can’t reach you, I can’t reach you..” It’s the perfect end to the album.

It’s easy to see why Rolling Stones voted “Little Earthquakes” amongst their “Greatest Albums of All Time.” Most fans would agree it is a masterful release. It contains so much of what listeners love about this unique artist. Philosophical, spiritual, heartbreakingly honest and vulnerable, it is an album that serves as an anthem for those who seek to reclaim all that has been lost. Nothing, “Little Earthquakes” seems to sing, is ever truly out of reach.

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