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Quintessential Album Series :: From the Choirgirl Hotel (1998) :: Tori Amos

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A Little History:

From the Choirgirl Hotel is the fourth studio album from Tori Amos. At release, it was considered departure from her previous albums, as the album was more heavily produced, featuring a full rock band sound, versus Tori Amos’ previously utilized minimalist piano sound.

Upon its release in May of 1998, the album debuted at # 5 in the United States, and # 6 in the United Kingdom. While falling short of the # 2 debut for Tori’s previous release, Boys for Pele (1996), From the Choirgirl Hotel was Tori’s strongest debut in United States sales, selling 153,000 copies in the first week of release.

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Tori received two 1999 Grammy nominations, for Alternative Music Performance, and Female Rock Vocal Performance for the song Raspberry Swirl.

The lead single Spark became a hit after its release in June 1998, and was followed by Jackie’s Strength in September 1998, and then Cruel/Raspberry Swirl in November 1998.

The accompanying tour, Tori’s first with a full band (using the album’s personnel of Matt Chamberlain on drums, Jon Evans on bass, and long-time collaborator Steve Caton on guitar), was known as the “Plugged ’98 Tour” and took Amos through most of 1998.

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The album began recording in October, 1997, with mastering complete by early February 1998. Following the trend set by 1996’s Boys For Pele, Tori allowed several songs from the album to be remixed. Remixes of both Raspberry Swirl and Jackie’s Strength both became club hits.

The album’s theme dealt very closely with the first two in Tori’s series of three miscarriages between 1996 and 1999.

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Thematically and conceptually, the “Choirgirl Hotel” of the title refers to the fictional, imaginary place where the songs “live.” Amos pointed out that although the songs are recorded, they are also alive themselves – they can be re-modeled and reshaped in concert etc. Tori imagined the songs as living their own lives, all checking into the “Choirgirl Hotel”, but living separate lives outside the confines of the album.

In the album’s artwork, Tori included a hand-drawn map detailing the stomping ground of these songs.

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The album artwork was created by the UK-based photographer, Katerina Jebb. The artwork features full-body color photocopies of Amos (in various couture outfits) as scanned by a human-sized photocopier.

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What Makes This “Quintessential” to me?

There are so many reasons why this album is “quintessential” to me, so many connections and emotions and memories are attached to this album, for me. Just listening to it this morning I find myself in tears.

Tori has always had an impact on my life, her first five albums coming around when I most needed them, or at least that is how it has always felt. There is strength I’ve gathered from her songs, and things I have faced in my life because of entire albums, words I didn’t have to express that I could call to her lyrics to help explain. For me, I felt like her music got me, and I got the music right back.

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Northern Lad hit me first. I felt like it described so painfully perfect the relationship I found myself in as the “nineties” came to a close. I would sit on the floor, next to my stereo, hitting repeat, over and over again, feeling every part of the song so completely. I’d listen to it while I filled pages and pages of handwritten journals, trying to write myself into a solution. I found it eventually, the song acting as a companion and confidante, and eventually as my strength to say “it’s over“.

I would garner that same kind of strength years later with Jackie’s Strength, a song that I kept close to me, as a totem, of sorts, for my belief in love even after so many failed attempts at it.

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Spark and Playboy Mommy would break me and piece me back together when I went through my own miscarriage. Both songs still bring me to tears, but sometimes we all need that. I know that I clung so tightly to those songs when I was trying to face such a loss, finding the smallest solace in at least knowing that I wasn’t alone. They are both such beautiful songs, albeit so very heartbreaking (especially the latter).

The songs from Tori’s Choirgirl Hotel have stayed with me, and many of them remain on my life-list of all-time favorite songs. I still go back to them, revisit them, slip them into playlists and sometimes find new connections to them. The album, too, I often listen from start-to-finish, usually letting it play a few times through. This is another album I’d really like to acquire on vinyl for my own collection someday.

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My Top 5 Favorite Songs:

1. Northern Lad

He don’t show much these days,
it gets so fucking cold.
I loved his secret places,
but I can’t go anymore.
‘You change like sugar cane’,
says me Northern lad.
I guess you go too far,
when pianos try to be guitars
.”

2. Jackie’s Strength

Make me laugh,
say you know what you want;
You said we were the real thing
.”

3. Spark

“She’s convinced she could hold back a glacier,
but she couldn’t keep Baby alive.”

4. Playboy Mommy

“I never was the fantasy,
of what you want,
wanted me to be.”

5. Black-Dove (January)

(live version)

You don’t need a space ship,
they don’t know you’ve already lived on the other side of the galaxy.”

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