NEW YORK (Billboard) - Tori Amos always puts ladies first. The singer-songwriter created a concept album about female archetypes (“American Doll Posse”), has rewritten men’s songs from a female perspective (“Strange Little Girls”) and connected to fans with haunting, brutal personal portraits -- “Me and a Gun” is a spare tale of her own sexual assault.
With the release of her first album for Universal Republic, “Abnormally Attracted to Sin,” out May 19, Amos tackles yet another thorny subject: women and power.
“I am kind of fascinated with the idea of erotic spirituality,” she says. “But first, I wanted to investigate what people are attracted to. Some of the songs are about situations where people are struggling with their power, and find themselves attracted to people that have power over them. Dominance has become an aphrodisiac for some women. But there are also songs about women finding their inner strength.”
Amos is fully aware of her own strength as an artist. When she sat down with Universal Music Group chairman Doug Morris to discuss her Universal Republic deal, her longevity and devoted fan base gave her considerable clout. Amos, who has her own publishing and merchandising companies, was firm about not wanting a so-called 360 agreement, or multiple-rights deal, in which recording artists share not just revenue from album sales but concert, merchandise and other earnings with their label in exchange for more comprehensive career support.
“Tell me the upside of a 360 deal unless it’s about $100 million?” she asks rhetorically. “I have to give half of it in tax, and a huge percent to my attorney, and then that’s all I’ve got? And someone else owns songs I haven’t even written yet?”
Amos defines the contract as a joint-venture agreement. Universal Republic president/CEO Monte Lipman adds, “There is just a tremendous amount of respect we have for Tori, and when it comes down to her vision and the way she wants up to operate, she has a lot of say in that.”
The artist herself is a force to be reckoned with on the new album, which blends rock beats with flashes of the avant-garde. Her sense of humor is evident in the lighthearted “Not Dying Today” and the slightly camp “Mary Jane,” but songs like the jaded “Curtain Call” and the electronic chirping of “Starling” reveal a pensive side. The song “Maybe California” deals with a mother who feels inadequate as a parent.
Amos observes that women often quietly shoulder the burden of keeping a family intact, especially in these times when the economy creates emotional and financial strain.
“We define powerful men with being providers. We’re back to that idea of power again, how to define what is power,” she says. “When you have a relationship where both are not feeling powerful, because we’ve equated success with having a job and the breadwinner is laid off, the effect that that can have on the family is beyond description.”
The packaging of the album reflects Amos’ thematic concerns. “I love the way (photographer Karen Collins) shoots women. It’s not vulgar or demeaning, but I find it just sexy. They look empowered to me, and I like her style. I felt that if we were gonna walk this line of erotic spirituality, which is quite a line to walk, I realized the two words don’t necessarily usually end up on the same table together in the same sentence. But it was a delicate line to walk.”
Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters