Tori Amos is to Kate Bush as Equal is to sugar -- tastes great, less filling. Her explicit first-person accounts of sexual victimization and flamboyant piano playing have inspired a cult-like devotion from fans since the release of her first solo album, "Little Earthquakes," in 1992. But she has yet to show that she's anything more than an emotional novelty act.
With her new album, "Boys for Pele," North Carolina preacher's daughter Amos has taken her sexual empowerment trip behind the scenes, producing all 18 songs on the album. Unfortunately, creative control doesn't translate into greater creativity. As she did on "Little Earthquakes" and "Under the Pink," Amos continues to push at the edges of traditional song structure, but leaves you wishing that her lyrics were as well-composed as the music. The songs oscillate between deliberately obtuse journal exercises like, "Tuna, rubber, blubber in my igloo, and I knew you pigtails and all," from "Marianne," and such superficially in-your-face imagery as "I got an angry snatch -- girls, you know what I mean," from "In the Springtime of his Voodoo." And while several of the disc's more polished tracks, such as "Doughnut Song," match the melodic mastery of some of Amos' previous songs, they never surpass them, and occasionally they sound like mere extensions -- "Little Amsterdam," for example, sounds a lot like "Under the Pink's" "Cornflake Girl."
Amos' musicianship remains her strongest quality. Her piano playing is impressive throughout, and she adds harpsichord and plush organ to bring a baroque quality to the standout ballads "Blood Roses" and "Father Lucifer." But her penchant for abrupt endings and ad nauseam repetition still surfaces on more experimental songs like "Professional Widow" and the cabaret-style "Mr. Zebra."
"Boys for Pele" is a collection of melancholy meanderings, worth brooding over for a self-indulgent day, but tiresome in larger dosages.