Since it is my birthday, I thought I’d highlight one of my all-time favorite albums. Tori Amos’ From the Choirgirl Hotel. Though I vacillate between four of her albums as being my absolute favorites, it’s this one that I come back to most often.
There will never be another Little Earthquakes, and the impact it had on me in 1992 is immeasurable, and Under the Pink is so connected to who I was in the mid-’90s that I will never lose my ties to it, and oh my stars, the gut-and-heart double-whammy punch of Boys For Pele, I may never be the same.
From the Choirgirl Hotel (1998) by Tori Amos
All that said, though, there is something about From the Choirgirl Hotel that gets me so deeply, at any time, and at any age. It may very well be my favorite Tori. It bypasses nostalgia, it drives over break-ups and memories, living somewhere forever under my skin, and fitting right into wherever I am in my life. From the start of “Spark”, From the Choirgirl Hotel’s got me.
“Spark” by Tori Amos
Are you sure where my Spark is?”
From the Choirgirl Hotel is Tori Amos’ fourth studio album (unless, of course, you count Y Kant Tori Read). When it was released, in 1998, the album was considered a departure from Tori’s previous works. This time around Tori had a full rock band sound, with heavier production than in the past when her sound was more of a minimalist, stripped-down piano sound. But, to me, it still had that rawness that had always been one of the things I love about her music.
Upon its release in May of 1998, the album debuted at #5 in the US and #6 in the UK. 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 US sales, selling 153,000 copies in the first week of release.
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. (from Wikipedia)
“Jackie’s Strength” by Tori Amos
Beene’s got some pot,
you’re only popular with Anorexia.
So I turn myself inside out,
in hope someone will see,
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.
From the Choirgirl Hotel’s 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. (from Wikipedia)
There are so many reasons why From the Choirgirl Hotel is “quintessential” to me, so many connections and emotions and memories are attached to this album, for me. Just listening to it this today, I find myself in tears.
Beyond the memories it evokes, I also feel the here and now when I hear these songs now. I still connect so much to “Northern Lad” (one of my forever favorite Tori songs), and “Playboy Mommy” (which I can’t hear without crying).
Tori has always had an impact on my life, her albums always coming around when I most needed them, or at least that is how it always felt with the first five. 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.
And the magic of From the Choirgirl Hotel is the never going away kind. I’m always going to want to listen to these songs.
“Northern Lad” by Tori Amos
“Guess you go too far,
when pianos try to be guitars.”
“Northern Lad” hit me first listen. 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’ve kept close to me, as a totem, of sorts, for my belief in love even after so many failed attempts at it.
“Playboy Mommy” by Tori Amos
“I’ll say it loud here by your grave,
those angels can’t ever take my place.”
“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 both tracks 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 From the 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 an album I’d really like to acquire on vinyl for my own collection someday.