Viewing posts tagged y kant tori read

A Witch Lost in Time (Etienne Trilogy)

Etienne Trilogy (1988)

Etienne (live, 1996)

Etienne (live, 2002)

Etienne (official bootleg, 2007, Tori set)

Etienne (live, 2017)

We have been returning frequently to the lens of Amos’s eventual reclamation of her Y Kant Tori Read work, mostly in the course of her 2014 tour. And so it’s fitting that we end discussion of that period of her career with the first song from the period that she played live, the album closer, “Etienne.” It happened on April 28th, in her old stomping grounds of Washington DC, about two month into the 1996 Dew Drop Inn tour for Boys for Pele, and five days before she debuted “Cool on Your Island” in a medley with “Hey Jupiter.” It went on to feature twenty-six times over the course of that tour—far from one of the most played songs, but in no way one of the least either, and ahead of multiple songs from all three of her albums up to that point. She cooled on the song a bit past that—those twenty-six performances make up nearly half of the song’s total appearances—but once reclaimed it never entirely left her setlists. 

Of course, “Etienne” marks only a part of ...

What About What I Want? (The Big Picture)

The Big Picture (1988)

The Big Picture (video, 1988)

Pictures of You/The Big Picture (live, 2014)

Selected as the lead single and sequenced as the first track, “The Big Picture” serves as the first and, for many, last impression of Y Kant Tori Read. It’s tempting to offer some snark about how unwise this is, but frankly, survey the other options again. There are certainly better songs, but the bulk of them are the downtempo numbers—”Fire on the Side,” “Floating City,” or “Cool on Your Island,” which ended up being the second single. The overblown production and 80s chintz of Y Kant Tori Read is consistently at its worst on the uptempo numbers, which meant that good choices of high energy lead singles were thin on the ground.

Nevertheless, it means that the album opens on a note that borders on self-parody—two bars of rapid, slightly clappy-sounding drums counting off the sixteenth notes in the song’s 128 bpm, followed by a melodramatic synth stab before Amos attempts a swaggering vocal delivery of “someone smashed my window / broke into my brand new car / last night” in a vaguely New Jersey-inflected accent such that it comes out roughly ...

There is a Light That Shines on the Frontier (Pirates)

Pirates (1988)

Pirates (live, 2014)

Jamaica Inn/Pirates (live, 2017)

1. Captain Blood

Upon joining the project, Joe Chicharelli introduced Amos to Kim Bullard, a keyboard player he’d used on several albums, mostly with the band Poco. Bullard ended up playing most of the synths on the album, and formed a brief writing partnership with Amos that resulted in three songs on Y Kant Tori Read. Two of these became the album’s singles. The third was “Pirates.”

On an album of frustrated love songs, “Pirates” stands out for completely and utterly not being one. It is instead the sort of song that characterizes Tori Amos’s later career, namely one in which it’s difficult to straightforwardly make a statement of the form “the song is about X.” I mean, it’s about pirates, obviously, but not in some straightforward narrative sense in which Amos relates the story of a pirate ship. The pirates exist somewhere between a metaphor and a straightforward subject. In the first verse, they seem to be imaginary—“Traveled far / from my home / foreign streets / paved with stone / deep in my dreams / Moroccan sand / I sail my ship / on dry land.” But the second verse has no ...

The Only Planet That Can't Conceive You (Floating City)

Floating City (1988)

Floating City (live, 2014)

Floating City (live, 2015)

At first, casual listen, another song of heartbreak and disappointed love: “you went away / why did you leave me / you know I believed you,” it opens. In fact, “Floating City” is the first shot in a longer and larger battle with the patriarchal Christian god of her upbringing. Eventually this would go on to fuel multiple albums in which Amos constructed her own sprawling alternative mythology. Compared to those songs, “Floating City” is a half-developed thought; compared to the rest of Y Kant Tori Read, it’s a song of towering scope and ambition.

Amos is, as she often notes, a minister’s daughter. In some ways this led to all the stereotypes you’d expect. Amos went to church multiple times a week, and sang frequently at weddings and funerals. Her father was reasonably progressive—Amos recounts that he marched with Martin Luther King and was a supporter of women’s rights. But this had clear limits—her account of how after “being exposed to so many gay people who work on my tours and shoots he’s evolved to seeing them as individuals, as people, and not as ‘the gays’” is decidedly modest ...

The Taste of My World (On the Boundary)

On the Boundary (1988)

On the Boundary (live, 2011)

On the Boundary (live, 2014)

Caught a Lite Sneeze/On the Boundary (live, 2017)

“On the Boundary” is the rare Y Kant Tori Read song that is neither embarrassing nor good. It is of course another song of frustrated love, but unlike most of the album it is at least not bothering to pine for its subject. Here Amos is clear that the romance is over and is settling on castigating her lover for his inadequacy instead of holding out hope for fixing things. This has the pleasant effect of making the song one in which the swagger of Y Kant Tori Read makes sense, as the song actually casts Amos in a position of confidence and assertiveness.

The song is built around a reasonably effective crescendo from the verses to the chorus. The verses are built on an alternating major chord progression that’s largely carried by the bass, which blats out a two note pattern over some synth pads and, in later verses, a smidgen of acoustic guitar. The lyrics here show Amos sketching out her lover’s failures, which generally amount to his insistence on shutting Amos out and not ...

Someone Had to Lose (Fire on the Side)

Fire on the Side (1988)

Fire on the Side/Purple Rain (live, 1996)

Fire on the Side (live, 2014)

Fire on the Side (live, 2017)

Another song of frustrated love, but ultimately one that is elevated by the particulars of its subject matter, which sees Amos tackling a classic of songwriting: infidelity. There are, obviously, three perspectives one can write a song about infidelity from. The most common is the person being cheated on, a perspective that allows for sadness (“I Heard it Through The Grapevine,” “Lyin Eyse”), anger (“You Oughta Know,” “Before He Cheats,” the first half of Lemonade), or more innovative perspectives (“Jolene”). Less common but still frequent is the cheater, which allows the singer to cast themselves as a villain, whether a self-pitying one (“The Call”) or an unrepentant one (“O.P.P.”, “It Wasn’t Me”). 

The least common, however, is the most consistently interesting: the other woman. Examples exist—Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” is the example par excellence here, although The Long Blondes’ “Giddy Stratospheres” deserves mention. And it is into this more arcane tradition that Amos steps with “Fire on the Side.” Amos approaches the subject, however, without any of ...

The Things We Do For Attention (Heart Attack at 23)

Heart Attack at 23 (1988)

Generally speaking, Y Kant Tori Read is not nearly as bad an album as its reputation would suggest. Misjudged in its presentation, dated, and a poor use of Amos’s talents, yes, and certainly not an album anyone would still care about thirty-two years later were it not for Amos’s future career, but not the cringing embarrassment that Amos’s disavowals (highlights include “Madonna and Kate Bush in a headlong collision after eating bad mushrooms”) and decision to leave it out of print until 2017 would suggest. For the most part it is a competent minor 1980s album—not something you’d single out as a hidden gem, but not something on its own terms that is mockable or embarrassing.

“Heart Attack at 23” serves as the biggest exception to this. Most of Y Kant Tori Read has been at least partially reclaimed by Amos, worked into concerts as a winking extra for fans die-hard enough to recognize it. “Heart Attack at 23,” however, is one of two songs on the album that Amos has never performed live. Good-natured reclamation of your juvenilia has its limits; here we find Amos’s.

It’s not hard to see why. “Heart Attack ...

Lollipop Girls Pave the Street (Fayth)

Fayth (1988)

Faith/Fayth (live, 2014)

Way Down/When Doves Cry/Fayth (live, 2017)

Flash forward seven years.

Our protagonist has spent all of them working towards becoming a pop star.  Her first serious effort in 1983, a recording session with Narada Michael Walden, who would go on to produce Whitney Houston on the soundtrack for The Bodyguard, produces neither anything of value nor anything that has made it into the public sphere, although lyrics including the chorus “give me the go/ and let me / rub you down /I'm in your power, when you're / takin' me down / I'll just lay low until / you come around / good to go / rub down / good to go /rub down” suggest we’re not missing out. In 1984, she moved to LA, at first doing basically the same sorts of bar gigs she’d been doing in DC. In 1985, she cut a commercial for Kellogg’s short-lived Just Right cereal, where she’s cast as “the piano player who isn’t obviously supposed to look like Elton John.” That year, things finally began to coalesce. She met Steve Caton, a guitarist who will end up sticking with her through To Venus and Back, and ...

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