NEW YORK — Imagine, for a moment, that you're Tori Amos. You've spent your entire life as a musician, having been a piano prodigy at the Peabody Conservatory, a teen-age chanteuse working the Washington piano-bar scene, even a hair spray-and-spandex hard rock babe in L.A. -- and none of it seemed to work.
Dejected, you retreat into yourself, and discover within your pain and anger an epiphany. Instead of making music for others, you DTC begin writing songs for yourself, and with this breakthrough comes a measure of passion, understanding and confidence that leaves your listeners awe-struck and enthralled. You've finally discovered who you really are, and that person is a success.
So what do you do for an encore?
That was the question facing Tori Amos at the end of 1992. After spending almost a solid year on the road promoting "Little Earthquakes," Amos knew she was moving in the right direction. The album had gone gold, her tour played to packed houses everywhere -- no mean feat for a singer-pianist in this age of hip-hop, techno and grunge -- and her fans were almost manic in their enthusiasm.
" 'Little Earthquakes' was an acknowledgment of things I hadn't looked at for 15 years, in some cases," Amos says. "You tell everybody, and other people say, 'I know what that's like, too.' And there's this energy and liberation you get from doing that.
"But then what happens? Well, everybody goes home, and you're sitting there. There was a deep fall after that, because I didn't have the same feeling of freedom as when I first discovered certain things. So what do I do the rest of my life? I can't write 'Little Earthquakes' again."
Amos didn't wonder for long, though. As it turned out, the songs that would become her new album, "Under the Pink" (Atlantic 82567, arriving in stores Tuesday), made themselves manifest almost immediately.
"I didn't think I was going to go into another record so fast," she says. "But as soon as I got off the road, 'Silent All These Years' came to me -- they all live, these songs, they're all alive -- and said, 'These are the girls I've been hanging out with.'
"When they showed up, I went, 'Oh, God. I just really want to, like, lie on the hammock and stuff.' But they said, 'Well, it's cold, and you can't lie on the hammock anyway, so check us out.' "
Sitting in a conference room overlooking Rockefeller Plaza, Amos looks more like an office intern than an established pop star. Short and slight, she looks younger than her 30 years, and her outfit -- a jumble of denim and cotton and bright-colored leggings -- appears to have been assembled more for its comfort than any sort of fashion statement.
A compulsion to explain
Yet beneath that apparently casual exterior, she's all business. Amos is in New York to talk about "Under the Pink," and seems intent on making sure every song is explained, and every theme discussed.
Why does she feel such a compulsion to explain? In large part, it's because the songs on "Under the Pink" work on a completely different level than those on "Little Earthquakes."
Granted, the music is fairly similar, from the piano balladry of "Pretty Good Year" and "The Wrong Band" to the wry, guitar-flavored pop of "God" and "Cornflake Girl." But the lyrics .. are another matter entirely. Some are character songs that seem worlds removed from the emotional disclosure of older work like "Crucify" and "Silent All These Years"; others are so deeply metaphoric that it's almost as if Amos were writing in a language of her own devising.
"You've got to work on this record," she admits. "This is not as petal-opening as the last record. You've got to go in your own being to get this record. But I think people that are into what I'm doing are ready to take that step."
Still, Amos can't resist providing a little context. "Part of this record is dealing with the betrayal of women, by women," she says. "The history of woman has been very lonely, and when you think that we should support each other, understand each other, that makes sense to me. But the concept of a sisterhood is not real."
Amos speaks from personal experience here, having noted with no little irony that the most vituperative reviews of her work have been written by women.
"I get criticized by women more than men on how I play the piano," she says, referring to her habit of straddling the piano bench and rocking her hips as she plays. "They find it offensive." Amos rolls her eyes. "Well, this is how I choose to express myself, so if you're truly a strong, independent woman, then how could you possibly find me being a strong, independent woman offensive?
"If you go to their side and take up their cause, then you're a 'strong, independent woman.' Well, you know, I'm so tired of hearing 'strong, independent woman equals -- and there's a list. It's just another set of rules. They're no different than the men that enslave the women in the first place."
So Amos, inspired by Alice Walker's "Possessing the Spirit of Joy," responded by writing "Cornflake Girl," a song about the trials of nonconformity.
MA " 'Cornflake Girl' is about that disappointment," she says,
A BIT OF AMOS
The Cornflake Girl, the Waitress and God? All three turn up on Tori Amos' new album, "Under the Pink." To hear excerpts from those songs and others, call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800-(410) 268-7736 in Anne Arundel County, (410) 836-5028 in Harford County, (410) 848-0338 in Carroll County-and punch in 6168 after you hear the greeting.