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Best Tori Amos Albums: 10 Essential Masterworks

Best Tori Amos Albums: 10 Essential Masterworks

From raw confessionals to explorations of the female experience, the best Tori Amos albums are the work of one of our boldest songwriters.


Tori Amos described her debut album, 1992’s Little Earthquakes, as “my first attempt at getting out of the egg: that little chicken that kinda kicks out”. Over 30 years later, Amos has created classic after classic; yet the best Tori Amos albums always have that sense of discovery. It still feels as though Amos is trying to burst open an egg, with all the mess and beauty of birth that entails.

Whether exploring the male gaze, trauma, spirituality, female energy, motherhood – or a million other themes – the best Tori Amos albums put the listener at the heart of her psyche. One of the most influential female musicians of all time, Amos often speaks as if she less a creator, and more a conduit for her music, her songwriting a way for steam to escape from a valve. “For a long time,” she wrote in her 2020 memoir, Resistance, “I didn’t appreciate that for certain songs to show themselves to me, they have to trust that I am ready to carry them.”

In turn, her listeners trust her – with their own pain, their own turmoil, their own joy. Amos celebrates redemption in her music but never neglects the ordeals that made that redemption necessary – and sometimes with searing directness. “You can heal, and yet not forget,” as she said in 1996. “And it’s a new way of thinking.”

Listen to the best of Tori Amos here, and check out the best Tori Amos albums, below.

10: ‘American Doll Posse’ (2007)

Tori Amos, particularly during the 2000s, seemed especially interested in the multiple personae and starkly contrasting moods that the same song might take. Just as on her 2000 covers album, Strange Little Girls, the artwork of American Doll Posse pictured Amos inhabiting multiple characters – in this case, Tori, Santa, Isabel, Clyde and Pip. Each character created their own blogs and performed in contemporary live shows. It was a complex concept that held a clear message inside.

“What I’m trying to tell other women is they have their own version of the compartmentalised feminine which may have been repressed in each one of them,” Amos said in 2007. “For many years I have been an image; that isn’t necessarily who I am completely.” This is also reflected in the music: more rock-oriented than her previous albums, American Doll Posse finds Amos at her most confrontational and defiant. “If you are going to be an American woman in 2007,” Amos said, “with a real view on what is going on, you need to be brave, and you need to know that some people won’t want to look at it.”

Must hear: Big Wheel

9: ‘Midwinter Graces’ (2009)

A seasonal Tori Amos album was always going to be more than Little Drummer Boy; this one takes in King Herod slaying the male infants of Bethlehem. “On Midwinter Graces, I acknowledge the great motherly energy and the fertility story that goes back to our pagan ancestors,” Amos said. “There’s beautiful, strong feminine energy on this record that honours the birth of the sun – that’s S-U-N, as well as the birth of the son – S-O-N, which was personified in Jesus Christ to the Christians and Adonis to the ancient Persians.”

Breathtakingly beautiful, the album is classically inspired and draws from orchestral and big-band music rather than rock, with Amos describing the freeing feeling of not structuring the songs “for the contemporary side of the music business”. One of the best Tori Amos albums, Midwinter Graces is also a modern essential among the best Christmas albums, even if it’s not especially festive…

Must hear: Candle: Coventry Carol

8: ‘The Beekeeper’ (2005)

“I’ve always been drawn to beekeeping, the culture of honey, the sensuality of how it is created,” Tori Amos said in 2005. “If I see beekeepers, I pull over.” Using the ideas of bees, pollination and their garden habitats, Amos combines spirituality and soulfulness, both in the lyrics and music of this, her eighth album.

Having explored her Native American heritage on 2002’s Scarlet Walk, Amos specifically wanted to understand the Christian part of her cultural upbringing on The Beekeeper. She felt the need to do so because of the political environment in the early 2000s, where “religious texts have been used a lot in the recent elections and in arguments in favour of war”, as she said at the time of the album’s release. “I wanted to make a different use of them.” Amos does this through travelling through the Garden Of Eden, listening to ancient female mystics, and using neo-soul musical expression. One of the best Tori Amos albums of the 2000s, The Beekeeper is an incredibly subtle, devastatingly effective critique of the misuse of Biblical texts for cynical ends.

Must hear: Witness

7: ‘Native Invader’ (2017)

Tori Amos’ 15th album, Native Invader, is poetic and utterly spellbinding. It is full of duality, weaving speech and silence (on the song Mary’s Eyes), humanity and animality (Bats) and mother and daughter (Up The Creek, which features Amos’ daughter, Tash).

Enveloping the album, like the forest that shrouds Amos on the cover, are the threats of climate change and environmental extinction. As Amos wrote at the time of Native Invader’s release, “the record looks to Nature and how, through resilience, she heals herself. The songs also wrestle with the question: what is our part in the destruction of our land, as well as ourselves, and in our relationships with each other?”

Must hear: Cloud Riders

6: ‘Under The Pink’ (1994)

Tori Amos’ second studio album, Under The Pink wasn’t meant to come into the world so quickly. After the success of Little Earthquakes, Amos reached the end of 1992 and wanted a rest. She went to New Mexico, to a 150-year-old hacienda, and “that had its effect on all of us”, Amos said in 1994. “I was gonna take a year off, but the songs just demanded that I tell their story, and their story was about life under the pink.” By “under the pink”, Amos meant under the skin itself, right to her essence.

Yet, unlike on Little Earthquakes, which found its power through directness, Under The Pink uses that essence less explicitly, and the result is a diffused, almost aromatic atmosphere among the best Tori Amos albums. Many of its songs deal with women’s relationships to one another, from its biggest hit (Cornflake Girl, which still endures as one of the best 90s songs) to its most glistening mood (Bells For Her). “If there’s a theme on Under The Pink, it’s one of self-empowerment,” Amos said in 1994, “whether it’s women acknowledging the violence in themselves or people coming to terms with the loss of hope. It’s about the refusal to see yourself as a victim, and how to have passion in your life without equating it with violence.”

Must hear: Bells For Her

5: ‘To Venus And Back’ (1999)

Originally planned as an interim release of live tracks, rarities and B-sides, allowing Amos to take a well-earned break, the To Venus And Back album turned into an altogether more ambitious creation. It featured some astonishing new tracks alongside impressive live performances from Amos’ 1998 Plugged tour.

Created in “a Dionysian frenzy”, Amos decided on the album’s title and then found that the songs coalesced around it quickly. “A few of them came at the same time,” she said in 1999. “We had Lust on the boards and Spring Haze on the boards, and I’m trying to figure out who’s living in what camp. I’m getting limbs of women and I’m trying to figure out what goes where. This nipple doesn’t belong with that woman. I was a sculptor. You get confused and drunk with it at a certain point…” One of the best Tori Amos albums of the era, To Venus And Back is a bold, beautiful record, a gorgeous spacey creation following the deep grief of her previous album, from the choirgirl hotel.

Must hear: Bliss

4: ‘Strange Little Girls’ (2001)

Right from the first years of her solo career, Tori Amos had been no stranger to cover versions; she had interpreted songs by Nirvana, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin in early live shows, and as bonus tracks on her 1992 single Crucify. But Strange Little Girls was where she explicitly explored how a woman’s voice was heard – or not – in songs written by men.

“I’ve always found it fascinating how men say things and how women hear them,” she said at the time of the album’s release. “Words can wound and words can heal, and both are included on the album.” She finds the woman in each of the song’s narratives, takes her voice seriously, and foregrounds her perspective – whether that’s the murdered wife of Eminem’s ’97 Bonnie & Clyde, the schoolgirl shooter of Boomtown Rats’ I Don’t Like Mondays, or the target of 10cc’s disdain/devotion on I’m Not In Love. “Each of these songs became a myth of our time,” Amos said, adding, “So, in this land of myth that you walk into in each song, it was a different male seed/vision that I was taking to put into my garden.”

Must hear: ’97 Bonnie & Clyde

3: ‘Boys For Pele’ (1996)

Third albums can be difficult beasts, especially when the first two have been as successful as Little Earthquakes and Under The Pink had been. Amos was expected to fulfil a certain role now: confessional, piano-based, highly emotional yet uncanny music, with her lyrics as the unquestionable centre. Boys For Pele, with its 75 musicians and sprawling cross-genre ambition, took that image, toyed with it, and at times completely skewered it. Emerging, defiantly, as one of the best Tori Amos albums, it was also the first that Amos produced herself.

Written in the aftermath of a relationship breakup, Boys For Pele explores Amos’ “beliefs about men, women, equality, honour, disrespect, passion, sensuality”, she said in 1996. “As I wrote the songs for Boys For Pele, I started valuing myself through my own eyes, instead of valuing me through the eyes of others, like the press or a lover or whatever.” She has described each of the album’s songs as an extract of a larger whole, where the listener can combine parts to find its story, and discover “pieces of myself that I never claimed”.

Must hear: Blood Roses

2: ‘from the choirgirl hotel’ (1998)

Tori Amos often describes her relationship with her songs as a two-way, dynamic process: she learns from them, they learn from her, both change in the process. It was on from the choirgirl hotel that she most fully explored this idea, where the songs were residents of a place called the Choirgirl Hotel and could do as they pleased. “I saw them as very independent, but I saw them as a singing group,” Amos said of these songs, “and that’s why I put them in a space that lives nowhere that I’ve ever been.”

It was almost like they were her children, and, as with children, Amos knew these songs would grow and change away from her. This idea of birthing songs had a particular resonance on from the choirgirl hotel, for it was written in the wake of Amos experiencing two miscarriages, and her growing belief that she would never have a child (which stayed with her until her daughter, Tash, was born, in 1999). from the choirgirl hotel also builds upon Boys For Pele’s experimental musical direction: on this album in particular, she used electronica moods and dance music, excited by what the Armand Van Helden remix of Boys For Pele’s Professional Widow had uncovered to her. The glitchy, unreal quality of the electronics perfectly balances the complex lyrical imagery Amos uses to express her pain. “When I’m in some kind of trauma,” she said in 1998, “the songs usually tear across the universe to find me.”

Must hear: Pandora’s Aquarium

1: ‘Little Earthquakes’ (1992)

Little Earthquakes not only tops this list of the best Tori Amos albums, it is an album that is thousands upon thousands of people’s untouchable favourite record ever. It’s the kind of record where every breath is known intimately, each intonation held to a fan’s heart. Tori Amos has said Little Earthquakes “was much more like a diary form of things that have happened in my whole life”, where she was “finding my own voice”. She literally composed lyrics in spiral-bound notebooks, one of which had The Little Mermaid on the cover.

Following a flop self-titled rock album with the band Y Kant Tori Read (released in 1988), Amos was lost and confused. “I tried too much to be everybody’s girl, because I was not able to listen to myself,” she said. Still containing many of the best Tori Amos songs – Crucify, Me And A Gun, Winter – Little Earthquakes was her attempt to do just that. As the song went, she had been silent all these years – and no more. Amos’ work fitted perfectly into 1992, its post-traumatic lyrics exploring similar territory to Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails, even while the musical method was very different.

Whether she’s exploring belief systems, patriarchy, family, trauma or childhood, the thread that joins all the songs on Little Earthquakes is emotional truth, and the journey of Amos to her own honesty. “What is the most powerful thing I can do for myself?” Amos said in 1995, describing the question she asked herself at Little Earthquake’s creation. “The truth is actually the most shocking thing you can do, because nobody really hears it much.”

Must hear: Winter

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