"She dives for shells, With her nautical nuns."
In retrospect From The Choirgirl Hotel was an important album for Tori Amos. By 1998, despite a couple of medium sized hit singles earlier in the decade, she was in danger of being known in the mainstream for just the (admittedly enjoyable) dance remix of “Professional Widow”, at least by the wider record buying public. It was undoubtedly a brave move to abandon her tried and tested girl, piano, and supporting musicians approach, and immerse herself and her music in the full band sound. The result was a Tori Amos with more emphasis on hooks, and this new approach pushed her into more commercial pastures and resulted in a more accessible sound. That she was able to assimilate this new approach into her working methods without the album sounding bloody awful is a testament to her quality control at the time.
Commercially the new sound was a smart move, as From The Choirgirl Hotel featured a few dance-influenced tracks like “Raspberry Swirl” that pleased those that had enjoyed the “Professional Widow” remix, but there was still enough of her piano work to appeal to those still captivated by her first two albums of the 90s. Indeed “Spark” was the biggest ‘solo’ hit she’d had since “Cornflake Girl” four years previously. While some missed the weirdness of Boys for Pele, others breathed a sigh of relief that she’d got it out of her system
Sadly retrospect also tells us that with From The Choirgirl Hotel, Tori Amos had reached something of a plateau commercially. The studio material from the live / studio double To Venus and Back just wasn’t as accessible as what was available here, despite her using a similar full band approach, and I have to admit, idiosyncratic covers album aside, I was among the fans whose interested diverged from the direction Tori Amos would head over the next few years.
Whenever Tori Amos’s career is assessed, it is her first three solo albums which attract the most praise, but for me From The Choirgirl Hotel should also be part of that conversation, as it managed to combine elements of each of her three previous albums into one formidable yet accessible release. It’s sometimes forgotten, or lumped in as part of her commercial and critical decline, but From The Choirgirl Hotel holds its own as one of Tori Amos’s most compelling albums.