In amongst some pretty bonkers material from a pretty bonkers career, the ‘Cornflake Girl’ b/w ‘Sister Janet’ single is still an impressive box of lyrical frogs.
Atlantic catalogue number A7281 (East West Records 7567-87281-7) was released in the UK in 1994. It’s one in a long and impressive series of superbly-designed sleeves; the artwork for the whole ‘Under The Pink’ project was imaginative, beautiful, conceptually unified and wonderfully rendered.
I’ve no recollection where or when I bought this 7″ but it was some years after release, during the period when I regularly searched for a cheap copy of part 2 of the CD version of this single that included her wonderful cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case of You’ (A7281CDX). You can now find ‘Sister Janet’ on the compilation albums ‘More Pink: The B-Sides’ and ‘A Piano: The Collection’.
Mixed-up crazy business or not, ‘Sister Janet’ is at least representative of Tori Amos’ golden period. From ‘Little Earthquakes’ through to ‘Boys For Pele’ she was staggeringly prolific but with an impressive quality standard. This was just one of many additional recordings that plenty of artists would have sold extended families to have had as a-sides.
It’s just Tori and her Bösendorfer, laying down a quintessential piano part: a topping of sparse high notes over a lower, tumbling and circling dominant hand. There are startling images as always “nobody else is slipping the blade in easy”, and powerfully-timed multi-tracked vocals as in “all the wizards black and white”. And the atmosphere is consistently disconcerting – a dark snowed-over forest, breath the only sound and way too loud, flakes dripping off the trees, surrounded by night and silence.
My best guess at the meaning is that we’ve stumbled upon some white witchery: a well-intentioned séance, but one that might well be going wrong. We should be afraid, after all we are in the company of “my dolly from the shadow side/with a demon and an Englishman” (the latter being by far the most frightening element involved – perhaps it’s Rupert Giles’ ‘Ripper’…). Who’s out there ? “Can you feel them” she asks, “touching hands before our eyes ?”
Before the chills take permanent roost, let’s flip over and enjoy the altogether less menacing a-side. ‘Cornflake Girl’ irritated the shit out of me when it landed. It was a long way from being Tori’s best track, and a long way from being the best track on ‘Under The Pink’ and yet here were all these people buying it in droves but ignoring everything else she did. Even back then it seemed ridiculous; now it’s easy to recognise it as a first example of the kind of eccentric excess that became only more common as Amos’ career unfolded. I can enjoy its strong rhythms and the vocal highpoint of “you bet your life it is”, but overall it’s now a track that I can hear once in a while, by accident, wryly enjoy and then move onto something wholly more credible and breathtaking. There’s plenty of that in her back catalogue, especially if you focus on the years up to 1998 (with occasional trips to 2002’s strong ‘Scarlet’s Walk’).