My favorite 100 albums of all time: #32 ("Under the Pink")
If there was any doubt whether Tori Amos could live up to her debut, Little Earthquakes, it was shattered by Under The Pink. From the opening track, "Pretty Good Year" to the epic closer "Yes, Anastasia," Amos knocks it out of the park.
Under the Pink is not a radical departure from Little Earthquakes, but it's not just treading the same ground again either. If you loved the first album, you'll almost certainly love this one – without feeling like "oh, it's the same album all over again with a few tweaks." It's also, thankfully, not one of those albums where the artist was afraid of being in a rut and went and changed everything up to sound different. Amos may bust out a full album of death metal or bluegrass standards (or some combination of the two) one of these days, but this is not that.
"Pretty Good Year" would have been right at home on Earthquakes. Amos' piano playing is as adept as ever, but she's flexing her voice a little more here.
After that one, "God" is slightly jarring. But in a good way. "God" has some razor-sharp and discordant guitar opening the track that will definitely get your attention. I've watched a few live performances of this on YouTube where the guitarist absolutely wrecked the intro, but the studio version is absolutely perfect. Everything else on the track is on point as well, but the guitar sound is unique to "God," and I can never get enough of it.
Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor guests on "Past The Mission," but his presence is hardly required here. Don't get me wrong, once you notice he's there (I didn't for years), the backing vocal doesn't detract but… it's subtle.
If you were musically aware in the early 90s, you've almost certainly heard "Cornflake Girl." Amos builds songs that are like no others, she can execute hairpin turns without losing momentum at all. A piano break to bridge things, no problem. You're along for the ride, watching the scenery, not caring where you're going.
The lyrics to "The Waitress," are perfect. "I believe in peace… bitch" sums it up so nicely. Amos takes a song about the all-consuming but petty rivalry between two waitresses and sings it like feud for the ages.
"Cloud on my Tongue" has a lovely rise and fall melody with a beautiful string arrangement. I occasionally wonder what it would have sounded like if Amos and Jacqueline du Pré could have collaborated on an album. Somebody see if we can borrow the TARDIS for a bit.
The swagger on "Space Dog" is impressive and infectious. The alternation between the wakka-wakka bass and guitar and classical-ish piano, coupled with Amos' honeyed voice is incredible. Songs don't always have to make sense… But I like to think Space Dog was off to rescue Major Tom.
"Yes, Anastasia" is a nearly 10 minute masterpiece that owes more to classical music than pop. (Also, if you really want to hear Amos flex her muscles vocally – so to speak – "Yes, Anastasia" fits the bill nicely.) It's a fantastic song to end an album on. What could follow it?
Under the Pink simply ticks all the boxes for me. It's technically amazing, the songwriting is beyond solid as well as original, and it comes (for me) with a healthy dose of nostalgia. It was part of the background for my mid-twenties, and some great times were had while this was playing in the background.