Review: Tori Amos – Little Earthquakes & Under The Pink Deluxe Remasters

Posted April 16, 2015 in
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Not all remasters are created equal, but Tori Amos' re-releases of Little Earthquakes and Under The Pink bring some rarities to life with great production.
Not all remasters are created equal, but Tori Amos’ re-releases of Little Earthquakes and Under The Pink bring some rarities to life with great production. Photo: Danielle Levitt
I must be a record company marketer’s wet dream: I always buy into the concept of the remaster and, more often than not, the “deluxe” part—which is usually b-sides or remixes that had previously only been released on vinyl, and sometimes previously unreleased material. Of course, like any music aficionado, sometimes just salivating over the prerelease tracklisting is as exciting as receiving the final product in its shiny new packaging. In other words, they got it right. Some of my favorites in this category have been the excellent Saint Etienne deluxe album reissues, all maxed to the hilt, Pet Shop Boys’ 2001 digital album remasters (by no means complete, they at least were interesting and all contained previously unreleased material, plus boasted generous liner notes and complete lyrics!) and the first three Buckingham-Nicks – era Fleetwood Mac 2004 remastered sets (especially my favorite, Tusk) and, of course, those first three Erasure album remasters, the highlight for me being The Innocents.

Sadly, sometimes they “got it wrong” and you wonder why (other than for financial gain) they even bothered. Like Morrissey’s criminal reissue of Viva Hate (maybe not so much the record company’s fault, one suspects) and then those oddly rearranged and annoyingly edited Maladjusted and Southpaw Grammar reissues, respectively. At least he redeemed himself with Bona Drag (save the butchery of “Ouija Board, Ouija Board”) and didn’t mess much with classics Your Arsenal and Vauxhall & I, even though the potential extras truly could have been so much better. Dave Stewart was behind Eurythmics’ back catalogue remasters and, while fantastic to get some rare things—especially gems from their mostly vinyl-only days—they were single discs, sadly and woefully lacking in both b-sides and mixes.

Sometimes I think this is what pisses me and other fans off: We know there is more out there and it could have been included and, in some cases, it should have been included. Memo to the blinded-by-greed record company execs making these decisions: Your reissue probably isn’t going to set the world on fire or even have the same impact as the original, so why not cater more to the collector and fan? When it is done right, we eat it up. When it is not, well, we criticize it mercilessly. Nostalgia aside, if the goal really is financial—and of course, it is—why wouldn’t you do everything in your power to do it right? It seems so obvious and yet it is rarely accomplished. That brings us to Atlantic’s deluxe treatments of Tori Amos’ seminal solo debut Little Earthquakes and its acclaimed follow-up, Under the Pink. How do these classics rate as far as rarities and thoroughness go? Fairly well, I’d say.

OK, so those three covers from the limited “Cornflake Girl” UK CD single from Pink aren’t here, and only her audacious (I dare say revolutionary, too, since it was the first time I personally bothered to pay attention to not only Nirvana, but grunge in general) reading of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” from Earthquake’s US Crucify EP is presented (and not the two other covers) but at least those were easier to obtain in the US than the others from the scarcer import of “Winter.” Pink’s remaster also, thrillingly, contains CJ Bolland’s vinyl-only remix of “God,” and ignores the lengthier trio of mixes from the UK CD single. Will some fans and critics be up in arms over these omissions? Of course, but for me personally, to finally own “official” copies of rarer b-sides, like “Ode to the Banana King” and “Song For Eric,” after years of putting up with crap-sounding and frequently inferior downloads, is more than worth it. Truthfully, I was never certain if my questionable-sounding live versions of “Little Earthquakes,” “Crucify,” “Precious Things,” “Mother” and “Happy Phantom” were the actual correct versions from the limited UK CD singles of “Crucify” and “Silent All These Years,” respectively, as there are simply many live versions of these in circulation.

Ah, the nearly extinct CD single. Back in 1991 when Earthquakes was initially released, it was reaching imperial status, especially in the UK, where there were often two parts to a release (and occasionally three) and frequently some sort of collector’s enticement ranging from scarcity (like a label limiting its availability by deleting it upon release) or to it sometimes offering art cards or unique boxes or packaging to house the other parts. How these tangible dodos are missed now in an increasingly digitized world! Officially, Earthquakes boasted five UK single releases (including debut “Me And A Gun”), three of which were two-part limited collector’s editions. Pink had four in the UK, likewise with three released in two-part limited editions.

What of those releases that these rarer things were culled from? Both have achieved modern music classic status, haven’t they? I don’t think I’ll ever forget hearing Little Earthquakes for the first time in its entirety at a party one night. As I tend to frequently do, I made my way to evaluate my host’s CD collection and she happened to have just started it from the beginning. I vaguely recall catching a short snippet of the striking “Crucify” video prior to this, but to be pulled immediately and so thoroughly into an album so that it didn’t leave my head until I could procure my own copy speaks volumes for Amos’ artistry and sheer talent. Is there a single weak track on it? Not to me: “Crucify,” “Girl,” “Silent All These Years,” “Precious Things,” “Happy Phantom,” “Leather,” “Tear In Your Hand” and that emotive title track all bowled me over the most. Likewise, the hauntingly pretty “Winter” and “China” and perhaps the most stunning thing of all, the a cappella “Me And A Gun,” remain as equally powerful. Then those b-sides just take it to a whole other plane. They are all represented (and remastered) here: “Upside Down,” “Sugar,” “Sweet Dreams,” “Take To The Sky,” “Flying Dutchman,” “Mary,” “Thoughts” and especially “Here, In My Head,” are all so powerful that they could, arguably, have been on the album proper. OK, so the aforementioned “Ode To The Banana King,” “Song For Eric,” and the “China” single’s “Humpty Dumpty” probably are more apt to B-side placement, but now to have them, and those live tracks too, all in one collection—sounding as they were intended to—is fantastic.

Then along came the follow-up, the then much-anticipated Under The Pink. How it lived up to its hype in production and songcraft. Will I ever tire of the mysteries of the dizzyingly catchy “Cornflake Girl”? I sure hope not! As they are seemingly pre-disposed to do, Amos’ record company chose different lead singles for different territories: East West (a UK arm of Atlantic) released “Cornflake Girl” and, deservedly, it was her first Top Ten European hit. Not to say they got it wrong in the US by choosing “God” first, where it became a radio hit and heavily rotated on MTV (which was still showing music videos, kids, like some forgotten early incarnation of YouTube), but I think this can sometimes confuse the music buying public. Often b-sides get repeated and while “God” was Amos’ first commercial US CD single, two of its b-sides were from part one of the UK’s “Cornflake Girl,” and it even rehashed its cover. At least the previously mentioned “God” mixes got a unique sleeve for the UK. By the time the US got around to “Cornflake Girl,” it just contained b-sides most fans had picked up from the European release of “Pretty Good Year,” including the dazzling “Honey” and “Black Swan,” but small point. The “Past The Mission” UK set, in addition to the guest harmonizing backing vocals of Trent Reznor on the album version of the title track, offered seven live tracks, which until now we’re not released in the US.

Under the Pink debuted in the UK charts at number one, and just outside of the Top Ten in the US at number 12. The profound beauty of “Pretty Good Year” lingers years later, and the stunning “Bells For Her,” with its prepared piano, remains a concert highlight when performed, as does “The Waitress.” There is a lot of healing going on in both “Past The Mission” and the wistful “Baker, Baker,” but it isn’t until the album’s second half that it hits its zenith, with “Cornflake Girl” leading into the redemptive “Icicle, Icicle,” and the reflective heartbreak of “Cloud On My Tongue.” It was always strange to me when critics unjustly accused Amos of trying to be Kate Bush (a lazy and inaccurate, if not also misogynistic label) on her next album, Boys For Pele, when to me the main thing—besides both being women who write and produce their own music on piano—is their individual creativity. Beyond that they are very different artists. I only bring this up because I think aspects of Bush’s wondrous “Rocket’s Tail” could be the musical cousin to Pink favorite “Space Dog.” The epic “Yes, Anastasia” which closes the album, is still grand and majestic, greatly bolstered with that beautiful orchestration.

While obviously less b-sides were produced for it (only seven versus Earthquakes’ 12) the live tracks and that fantastic CJ Bolland mix of “God” balance it out. Amos remains incredibly prolific and contributes to other artists and projects, and seemed especially so during these two releases’ initial history. While it would be lovely to have some of these things collected and remastered, my guess is things from around the period were left off of these remasters due to licensing or maybe simply for artistic reasons. Speaking of the remastering itself, it is hard to critique from digital files, except to say these sound crystal clear and sharp, with no noticeable drops or distortion. Like with the artwork and design, I must wait to compare them to the originals until April 14 when they are officially released as double CDs or, if you must, digitally, but also on heavyweight vinyl for the first time in the US—although these appear to be the albums proper and not any of the great bonus material. Here’s to hoping Boys For Pele and From The Choirgirl Hotel deluxe versions are around the corner!