Soulful R&B vocals, ripping solos, funky low-end, and real hip-hop are phrases that describe Vicious Groove's freshman effort, Vicious Nation.
Boys for Pele
, the title of Tori Amos's epic third album, is as awkward and confusing as the music inside. Though it sounds like a recruitment slogan for Little League soccer, the name actually refers to the lost temples of feminine divinity. Pele, you see, is the Hawaiian volcano goddess; the boys, well, they're the sacrifices that quell the rumbling lady's rage. Attempting to regain fires stolen long ago, Pele rewrites the crucifixion to star a girl Jesus and in doing so conjures a forgotten matriarchal mythology. While Amos's characters--Jupiter, Muhammad, Lucifer--are male by name, the aural landscape into which they're thrown is as symbolically and expressionistically female as Georgia O'Keeffe's skull-and-roses paintings. Pele
is a complex and formless--and often impenetrable--work of gothic-pop chamber music, both beautiful and ghostly in its nearly complete reliance on Amos's rolling Bosendorfer grand piano, chilling harpsichord (which she bangs like a courtly punk rocker), and acrobatic voice (as earthy as Joni Mitchell's and as otherworldly as Bjork's). Unfortunately, she takes us only halfway: her songs engage and challenge us to understand, but the imagery offers few clues to help us crack their frustrating opacity. Pele
ends up as much a pretentious and self-indulgent trip as it is a synthesis of talent, imagination, and skewed vision. Still, there's reason to celebrate that an album as formalistically and thematically alien to pop audiences as Pele
would win such quick success upon its original release. --Roni Sarig