When she’s in a certain mode, Tori Amos is empowered, furious, and lucid. But as the piano-pounding alt-rock ingenue has evolved from cantina singer to faerie queen, it’s become increasingly difficult to tell what in the blue hell she’s talking about. So as she prepares to invade Concord Pavilion to pimp her monolithic (nineteen songs, eighty minutes) and oft-inscrutable new record, The Beekeeper, we offer the following interpretations of some of her more unfathomable originals.
Song: “The Power of Orange Knickers”
Album: The Beekeeper, 2005
Problematic lyric: The power of orange knickers/Under my petticoat/The power of listening to what you don’t want me to know/Can somebody tell me now who is this terrorist?
Response: Singer-songwriter Damien Rice joins Tori for this languid duet, touting the power of carrot-colored underpants. The album’s liner notes explain that Amos’ husband is a fan of British soccer team Arsenal, which has a ruddy uniform. So the lyric can be read as a low-key fight song for the lovers’ favorite footballers. Just don’t look for it to replace Gary Glitter’s hideous “Hey” anthem at Raiders games anytime soon.
Song “Mr. Zebra”
Album: Boys for Pele, 1996
Problematic lyric: Hello, Mr. Zebra/Can I have your sweater?/’Cause it’s cold cold cold/In my hole hole hole/Ratatouille strychnine
Response: What Adam Sandler is to men with a juvenile sense of humor, Amos is to smart women: She represents the audience at its best and worst. “Mr. Zebra” is a sly wink at Sandler’s crowning achievement, the 1995 lowbrow comedy Billy Madison, wherein a sloshed Sandler hallucinates a giant penguin. Amos has a similar history of seeing things and spouting nonsense. In a 1998 episode of VH1 Storytellers, she unsurprisingly explained that a hallucinogenic experience inspired her to write some of Pele, which also includes “Father Lucifer” — a clear reference to Sandler’s Little Nicky.
Album: To Venus and Back, 1999
Problematic lyric: Father/I killed my monkey/I let it out to/Taste the sweet of spring/Wonder if I will wander out/Test my tether to/See if I’m still free of you.
Response: “Icicle,” from 1994’s Under the Pink, was an explicit ode to masturbation (Gonna lay down/And when my hand touches myself/I can finally rest my head). As Amos enjoys a brief foray into sensual electronica, the ecstatic “Bliss” less clearly revisits the themes of feminine identity, sexual independence, and spanking the monkey. It’s not her first reference to primates, though. “Marianne,” from Pele, features the baffling lines The weasel squeaks faster than a seven-day week/I said Timmy and that purple monkey/Are all down at Bobby’s house. We have no idea about that one.
Album: From the Choirgirl Hotel, 1998
Problematic lyric: Trusting my soul to the ice cream assassin/Here/Here/Here.
Reader response: This could be a nod to classic poem “The Emperor of Ice Cream” by Wallace Stevens, who was often on the same warped wavelength as Amos. In “Man Carrying Thing,” he responds to charges that his compositions defy interpretation, writing, The poem must resist the intelligence/Almost successfully. Amos follows his advice on The Beekeeper, where she confusingly attempts to reconcile the conflicting feminine roles of mistress, wife, and mother. But given this particular song’s bleak tone, it’s quite possible that she’s just dealing with a bad weekend by polishing off a quart of chocolate-chip cookie dough.