Little Earthquakes has a fearful anger and confusion under its seemingly calm exterior.
As the album title may imply, there’s a strange dichotomy to Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes. At the time of its release in 1992, there was nothing else like it on the airwaves or in record stores. Amos had already been in the industry for six years before the album (which has been reissued in a deluxe format) was released. After the abject failure of her previous project, Y Kant Tori Read (a band that featured Guns N’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum) and their self-titled debut album, Amos submitted many songs to Atlantic Records to fulfill her contract but everything was rejected. But then she found the formula that made this mesmerizing release.
Amos employs her alt rock roots with her virtuoso piano playing and capable voice for a reconciliation of opposites that even a Romance poet might be proud of. On one hand, the album is a showcase for some beautiful and inventive classical piano pieces accompanied by a lovely and peaceful voice. On the other hand, Little Earthquakes has a fearful anger and confusion under its seemingly calm exterior. Amos experiments with the mixed feelings of her religious upbringing and applies faith to the struggles of everyday life and relationships. This is best exemplified in the opening track (and radio hit) “Crucify,” which serves as a thesis statement for the album on the whole. Bookending the album is the title track, which closes the record with a sweet, stream of consciousness litany of love and hate and the tiny conflicts that can destroy a relationship. If these two songs seem to imply a certain sameness to Little Earthquakes, that’s hardly the case—the album is full of surprises.
“Girl” is an upbeat and poppy track that masks a cold dejection of a woman struggling to find her own voice. This same voice appears in “Silent All These Years,” in which the speaker’s “scream got caught in a paper cup” as she fights through an abusive and repressive relationship. The ending of the song is ambiguous and hopeful, but the subject may not be speaking to the same person anymore. The dichotomy continues with the playful “Happy Phantom” (where in spite of the joyful arpeggios, Amos continually repeats the phrase “If I die today”). Conversely, “China” has every ingredient of a sad song, but the lyrics reach for a positive and uplifting future, much as “Silent All These Years” seems to. The album’s pinnacle is “Precious Things,” which begins with a far off, repetitive piano riff accompanying a semi-autobiographical history of Amos and morphs into a near metal assault with lyrics like “Make me come” and “little fascist panties” and “let them bleed.” The beautiful repeated piano arpeggio rarely gives way and is accompanied by layers of heavy guitar and even a shattering break of aggression that sees Amos’ alluring voice become a snarl.
But as the album continues, the music actually vanishes completely on “Me and a Gun.” The fully a capella track is an impassioned recounting of a violent rape at gunpoint and its aftermath. This feminist statement is so passionately intoned that you could see it getting through to the most hard-assed sexist. However, Amos’ lyrics, while still poetic, remain a mixture of strange opposites. The lyrics “I must get out of this” rail against surprising words like “You can laugh, it’s kind of funny.”
The 12 tracks of the original Little Earthquakes have been remastered for this release and they sound quite beautiful in full digital. Initially, the album ended with the title song and that served as fine punctuation to a rich album. Continuing a welcome trend, the 2015 reissue features a second disc filled with live tracks and unexpected rarities. Live versions of “Crucify,” “Precious Things” and “Little Earthquakes” may be required for a collection like this–however, stranger inclusions like “Flying Dutchman,” “Humpty Dumpty,” “Sweet Dreams” and Amos’ cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” help to fill out the 18-track second disc for one hell of a companion piece.
While it was fitting to originally end Little Earthquakes with “Little Earthquakes,” this second disc provides an entertaining (if sometimes chilling) audio version of a “DVD Extra.” But this Little Earthquakes reissue isn’t merely a nostalgia piece. With its lack of standard rock and pop clichés of the day and reliance on acoustic piano and an excellent (if unconventional) voice, Little Earthquakes sounds as unique today as it did in 1992.