Tori Amos's Magic Touch
Linker, Damon, Newsweek
Byline: Damon Linker
The radical singer infuses her hits with a classical twist.
When Tori Amos set out to commemorate the 20th anniversary of her seminal debut album (Little Earthquakes) by recording orchestral versions of songs from throughout her career, she knew she was taking a risk. "Your heart sinks and you're petrified," Amos says about the process of recording with the renowned Metropole Orchestra, "because you realize, if you get this wrong, you can never face anyone in the music world again. Pop musicians can really get it wrong when they step into the classical world or opera. The graveyard is filled with that."
Amos needn't have worried. Unlike most so-called crossover efforts--think of the punky Elvis Costello collaborating with the Brodsky String Quartet on The Juliet Letters--Amos's Gold Dust (out Oct. 2) sounds less like a radical break from her work than the next stage in its evolution. A refugee from Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory of Music (she was invited to attend at age 5 and expelled when she was 10), the 49-year-old Amos has made a career out of crafting intricate songs that add classical flourishes (along with flashes of glam-rock theatricality) to the piano-based style of Joni Mitchell and early Elton John. Amos says that she spent many years "running from" classical music. But in preparing for this album she chose to "sit myself down hour after hour after hour and immerse myself in these masterful works," from Bach and Chopin to Stravinsky and Prokofiev. "It was humbling to see how their minds worked. I had a love affair with each of those dead guys."
The result is emotionally gripping--and about as far away from contemporary pop music as you can imagine. "Don't think I'm not singing along when [12-year-old daughter] Natashya has 'Call Me Maybe' on the radio," Amos says. "But we sing 'Kill Me Maybe.'" While today's record companies and producers gravitate to what Amos describes as "formulaic songwriters," things were different when she was starting out 20 years ago. …