Album Reviews

Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes: A Powerful Voice Breaking Through the Silence

Women’s History Month gave me the opportunity to work through some records I have not listened to in years, which reminded me how powerful Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes is. This was Amos’ debut solo record after doing some time in a syth pop band called Y Kant Tori Read. The record was released in 1992 and involved a number of producers including Tori Amos and Ian Stanley, who was one of the founding members of Tears for Fears and was with the band until 1987. Little Earthquakes did well both critically and commercially, as it went to 54 on the Billboard top 200 with multiple singles charting in the top 100. It set the foundation for which Under the Pink will use to jump to 12 on the U.S. Billboard charts. From this point on Tori Amos will be a mainstay on both critical and commercial charts for years to come.

Compared to Amos’ future recordings, Little Earthquakes is the most stripped back and raw of her work. The record company, Atlantic, rejected the record a number of times before agreeing to put it out. Atlantic execs did not like a non – guitar led record with the advent of grunge in the 90s and were very reluctant to embrace Amos’ piano led tracks. Moreover, most of her music was about violence towards women, which the record company did not see as a seller. Tori has spoken about how she fought for the songs to be on the record and even played at the piano bar at The Sheraton hotel in order to make ends meet as she fought for Little Earthquakes. Eventually, Atlantic gave the record a shot and the rest is history. Out of this record Tori helped found RAINN, which is a non-profit organistation that fights against sexual assault.

First of all, this entire record is amazing, but we are going to focus on three standout tracks. The biggest charting track on the record is Silent All These Years, which tells the story of an abusive relationship where a woman endures years of abuse. She remains silent as she endures verbal and psychological abuse. She fantasises about yelling out in defiance and reclaiming her sense of self. Ultimately, she lets her voice be heard and is surprised by the power in her voice that she has not heard in years. Silent All These Years lays out a number of themes, which will be central to this record. Musically, this track centres the action on Amos’ amazing piano / keyboard work that will become synonymous with her music. Most importantly, it addresses violence against women, which will become a lyrical theme throughout the record. Her vocal on this track, and on the record, has a raw vulnerability and power to it that is mesmerising.

Probably the track that has had the longest lasting impact for her audience is Me and a Gun. This track was not on her original demo for the record, but was added during initial recording. Tori Amos was raped early in her musical career after giving someone a ride home from a gig. This traumatic experience would impact Amos’ functioning for years after and comes up in a number of her songs dealign with violence towards women. However, this track is a direct retelling of that experience in all of its raw and traumatic detail. She sings acapella with no musical accompaniment about what happened: “It was me and a gun / And a man on my back / And I sang, “Holy holy” / As he buttoned down his pants.” She questions Jesus and myths of women asking for sexual assault based on their behaviour as she tries to make sense of what happened. This track has given millions of rape / sexual assault survivors strength as they feel heard. This is one of the most courageous and brutal songs you will ever hear. However, the song gives hope in that Tori Amos experienced this horrific incident and yet has the strength to put this song and record together. Me and a Gun is an extraordinarily important song in music history and continues to have a powerful legacy to this day.

The final track we will look at is a favourite of mine on the record, which is Winter. The track itself is about Tori reminiscing about her childhood with her father and how she has changed over the years. This is a track about growing up and discovering yourself into adulthood. She sings about finding the “truth who I am” and how she is going to love herself: “When are you going to make up your mind / And love you as much as I do.” Ultimately, things change over time, but the real change comes when you love who you are and the person you have become through it all. It is a beautiful song that showcases Amos’ songwriting and musical talent. There are incredibly emotional piano segments, which are complimented with epically sweeping orchestral flourishes. Winter is a beautiful song that will always bring me to tears.

To say that Little Earthquakes is a seminal record in musical history is a gross understatement. Tracks like Crucify, China, Happy Phantom and Girl further illustrate the vast range evident on this record. Amos can effortlessly move from Annie Lennox on tracks like Girl and Kate Bush on tracks like Happy Phantom. However, the crucial aspect of this record is that it is unlike anything released in 1992 or since. Her courage, uncompromising lyrics, musical brilliance and vocal transcendence makes this a classic record everyone must own. This record is a key element in my own development and inspired me to become the person I am today. Moreover, it has the same emotional depth and power now as it did in 1992.

Listen to Little Earthquakes

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