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Are You There, God? It's Me, Tori

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The lyrics Amos uses to grapple with these motifs are often impressionistic; there are enough mysterious pronouns on choirgirl to keep her devoted fans poring over the print for days. Much of the music, meanwhile, is crafted around drum-and-bass sequences. "The rhythm started to come early on in the songs," she reveals. "It was a part of each one of the songs' structure. Although there's rhythm on the other records, I didn't write it as part of the structure. It came later."

Amos denies that the infusion of beats represents her capitulation to a beguiling trend. Rather, she says, the idea sprang from a more timeless source. "I remember spending time by the water trying to recover from the loss, and I would just study the water for hours and hours--how this incredibly multilayered thing which was the sea could turn on a dime, could change from this calm persona to this tidal wave, this thunderous volatile character. There was nothing I could do to save this being's life, so I needed to draw on something to really find my strength as a woman again, because I couldn't go back to being the woman I was before I carried life--and at the same time, I wasn't able to be a mother. So I studied the sea a lot and started to turn to this primal, primitive--I guess you could say ancient--womanness that had to do with rhythm, a woman's internal rhythm that was not dependent on whether she was a virgin or if she was sensual or if she was many times a lover to many, many men. No judgment on what her accomplishments were or weren't. I just felt we all had access to the earth's secrets, and the music started to come through this belief." As a result, the album mirrors not just the ocean's rhythms, but also its bombast and changeability. Effects sporadically drown the vocals and instrumentation. In places, the ornate compositions waver like underwater cathedrals.

In order to explore the deeper realms of the female existence on stage, Amos took an unconventional tack: She declined an invitation to join the roster of the Lilith Fair and assembled an all-male band to back her throughout an extensive tour. She insists that these decisions were based upon distinct artistic goals, not latent reservations about sisterhood. "These players are the best that I could find. It was about being great--that's how I chose my band. And as far as the Lilith Fair, I'm doing my own show, and it's really a theater piece. What I'm doing, I couldn't do at the Lilith Fair. I would have to change it. I did quite a few festivals in Europe, and we had to shift it. It becomes more of a variety show, and there's nothing wrong with a variety show. We had good fun--[Garbage's] Shirley Manson and I had a laugh, and Bjsrk was on the bill and we get along very well. But the point is, I did have to shift it, and I really did want to create the show that you're going to see."

These days, an Amos concert reeks of rock-opera spectacle; awash in a grandiose light show, Amos goes wild on her seat, playing her black Bssendorfer grand piano and a Kurzweil MIDI keyboard while the boys rock the house. Such musical sensibilities can be traced to her Seventies-era adolescence. "I think a lot of strides were made then, and there was a sense of humor--even though it was a dark sense of humor in some of it, like the Bowie stuff. But I liked that time. I felt people took a lot of chances, and now there aren't many subtexts to what I hear on the radio. There are not a lot of piss-takes. There's a lot of politically correct music, and the characters don't have paradoxes going on with them, which I don't find interesting."

The paradoxes that are so prevalent in Amos have been ironed flat by the mainstream press, which has tended to parody her as a kooky girl-child with a faerie fixation. In truth, she's an articulate lay student of many religions who's as interested in the stories of Jesuits or Native Americans as she is in the legend of the Grail. "For some reason, the press, when it was mentioned I was interested in Celtic mythology, mistook this for Tinkerbell. And Tinkerbell is really fun--but I have a house in Ireland, and to really live there, I threw myself into Celtic mythology and the Tuatha De Danann and their history, and I began to really respect what the land of faerie represented to them. It was really the pagan symbology similar to angels and demons. It gets diluted, and I think it's a disrespect to their mythology. It's not about just the faeries; it's the spiritual world--that which we cannot see." She adds a challenge: "Go to Ireland and go in a pub, and walk up to some of these huge, gargantuan guys who will headbutt you, and dis their mythology."

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Amy Kiser