Boys for Pele is the harshest and most challenging work in Tori Amos' catalog.
However, it also stands as the most cathartic, nourishing, and artistically thrilling of her career.
Birthed in the wake of a devastating breakup, Pele is a sprawling ode to the feminine, conjured in a whirlwind of pain that forced Amos to embark on a quest into the dark unknown to find the fire within that had been snuffed out by the men in her life.
After her breakthrough confessional Little Earthquakes and the delicate impressions of Under the Pink, Amos struck out on her own for the first time, unfettered and uncompromised.
Pele would be her debut at the helm as sole producer, a control she would maintain for the rest of her career.
With that power, Amos was free to exorcize the demons as she saw fit.
She did so with new additions to her arsenal: a harpsichord, brass flourishes, a choir, labyrinthine lyrics, and a pantheon of spirits summoned in the Louisiana bayou and the Irish countryside.
It was a jarring shift.
While unflinching songs like "Me and a Gun," "God," "Icicle," and "The Waitress" flirted with what was to come, Pele delved directly into the darkness, cleansing both her and the listener in ways that she hadn't before attempted.
Like hitting an exposed nerve or an open wound, the rawness was striking.
Following the sparse opener "Beauty Queen/Horses," the discord on "Blood Roses" shocks Pele to life with medieval harpsichord magic.
That electricity surges throughout, most notably on "Professional Widow," a powerful dose of industrial-piano ferocity that holds nothing back in its demands for peace, love, and a little something extra.
When her rage is restrained, the pain seeps through in quiet moments of devastation like "Hey Jupiter," "Putting the Damage On," "Doughnut Song," and the utterly heartbreaking "Marianne." While the first half of Pele houses the more immediate numbers, the back end of the LP provides rewards for the patient listener.
From the rousing "In the Springtime of His Voodoo" to the funky "Little Amsterdam," Amos slowly crawls out from the underworld, nourishing her spirit with a Southern gospel choir on "Way Down" and finding bittersweet solace on "Twinkle." Although the album runs long -- and is emotionally exhausting in scope -- the shared journey is part of the experience, as listeners play the Dante to Amos' Virgil.
Boys for Pele remains one of her very best works, timeless in its examination of pain, self-discovery, and acceptance.