Boys for Pele is Tori Amos' third studio album which was released by Atlantic Records & East West on January 22, 1996.
During the recording of her 1994 album, "Under the Pink", Tori Amos's longtime professional & romantic relationship with Eric Rosse, who co-produced a considerable amount of her pre-Pele work, disintegrated. That loss (combined with a few subsequent encounters with men during the "Under the Pink" promotional tour) forced Amos to re-evaluate her relationship with men and masculinity.
Amos explained: "In my relationships with men, I was always musician enough, but not woman enough, I always met men in my life as a musician, and there would be magic, adoration. But then it would wear off. All of us want to be adored, even for five minutes a day, and nothing these men gave me was ever enough."
Songs began appearing in fragments, often while on stage during the "Under the Pink tour." After a trip to Hawaii during which Amos learned about legendary volcano goddess Pele, the album began taking shape; Amos conceived of the songs as representing stealing fire from the men in her life as well as a journey to finding her own fire as a woman.
From there, Amos explained, the songs just came. She said: "Sometimes the fury of it would make me step back, I began to live these songs as we separated. The vampire in me came out. You're an emotional vampire, with blood in the corner of your mouth, and you put on matching lipstick so no one knows."
During this time, Amos, who has openly discussed her experiences with psychedelic drugs (particularly in relation to "Boys for Pele") did ayahuasca ceremonies with a South American shaman and experienced meeting the devil, leading her to write the track "Father Lucifer."
The album would ultimately consist of 15 full-length songs and four short "interludes". As Amos was finding "parts and pieces of myself that I had never claimed" on this journey, the 14 primary songs represent the number of body parts of the Egyptian god Osiris that his wife, the goddess Isis, had to find to put his body back together in Egyptian mythology.
The arrangement of the songs on the album reflects the progression Amos intended to achieve on the double vinyl LP of the album; each of the four sides of the album on vinyl would open with an interlude track that leads into the rest of the three or four songs on each side.
The vinyl release is the only version of the album in which the interludes ("Beauty Queen," "Mr. Zebra," "Way Down," and "Agent Orange") are not numbered.
"Boys for Pele" is Amos's first self-produced album; she would continue producing her own albums through "Native Invader."
Given that the album deals with the role of women in religion and relationships, and particularly in light of her breakup with Eric Rosse (who had served as producer for her previous two albums) Amos felt that it was appropriate to take complete control over producing "Boys for Pele" as a "bid for independence."
Of producing the album herself, Amos said, "I was at the point I could not answer to anybody. I'd been answering my whole life to some patriarchal figure."
The album's cover (which was taken by Cindy Palmano in October 1995 in New Orleans) is a photo of Amos holding a large rifle, sitting in a rocking chair on the porch of an old wooden building. One of her legs is out of her pants and flung over the side of the chair. A snake coils around the chair and a large rooster hangs from the roof of the porch.
The image is a nod to her song "Me and a Gun," which appears on the album, "Little Earthquakes" and recounts a rape she suffered.
According to Amos: "Well, it's [the cover of the album] a reference to Me and a Gun, a song I wrote that was on Little Earthquakes. And the idea that there's a dead cock on my right and alive snake on my left. And the idea is that death and life ... creation ... what it's taken me to get here with men, and I don't want to be angry anymore. And you turn it over and you put the gun down, but I'm not pretending what it's taken to get me here. But no more resentment."
- Beauty Queen 1:50
- Horses 4:17
- Blood Roses 3:56
- Father Lucifer 3:43
- Professional Widow 4:31
- Mr Zebra 1:07
- Marianne 4:07
- Caught A Lite Sneeze 4:24
- Muhammad My Friend 3:48
- Hey Jupiter 5:10
- Way Down 1:13
- Little Amsterdam 4:29
- Talula 4:08
- Not The Red Baron 3:49
- Agent Orange 1:26
- Doughnut Song 4:19
- In The Springtime Of His Voodoo 5:32
- Putting The Damage On 5:08
- Twinkle 3:12
"Boys for Pele" debuted at number two on the Billboard 200, selling 102,000 copies in its first week, going on to achieve RIAA Gold certification in the US by early March. The album debuted at number two in the UK as well, making it the highest-charting transatlantic debut of any of Amos's albums.
Prior to its release, the album achieved BPI Silver certification in the UK, followed by BPI Gold certification in March.
By May, US sales were already nearing Platinum certification status when "Talula," (the album's second US single, which also appeared in the film, "Twister") was released and accompanied by a sticker that read, "From Tori's new album Boys for Pele – 900,000 and climbing!"
Dance remixes of "Professional Widow" were released in July and by the end of the month, the single reached number one on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play charts in the US as well as topping the charts in Italy and the United Kingdom.
The successful releases of "Talula" and subsequently "Professional Widow" surged albums sales enough that "Boys for Pele" achieved RIAA Platinum certification in August, the day after the US release of the "Hey Jupiter" EP. The success of remixes from this album led to the album being reissued in both the US and the UK.
The album remained on the Billboard 200 for 29 weeks throughout 1996 before falling off the chart in mid September.
According to Billboard Magazine, the album ranked number 100 on the Year-End Album Charts of 1996 in the U.S. in December; to date, "Boys for Pele" is Tori Amos's third-best selling album in the United States.
Critics overall praised the album's expanded instrumentation, and the acoustics that recording the album in a church afforded, but otherwise reaction to the album was polarized, particularly with regard to the lyrics.
Some critics praised its ultra-personal lyrics while others panned what they called its overt and excessive self-indulgence and "ozone-layer lyrics" described as unfathomable, impenetrable, and personally opaque.
One scathing review suggested skipping the album, instead reading something "a little bit more intelligible—like maybe Gravity's Rainbow written in Greek" while Rolling Stone went as far to bluntly say that most of the album's lyrics are "ultimately mystifying and, well, bad".
Robert Christgau of The Village Voice assigned the album a "dud" rating, indicating "a bad record whose details rarely merit further thought." One reviewer observed that Amos's unfettered creativity due to serving as her own producer cost the album its accessibility.
Amos has stated that her goal was not to make radio-friendly music with universal lyrics, and went on to say that "a song is only part lyrics and, for me anyway, more than 50% music, easy. There's so much subtext in the music that's part of the story."
Amy Gentry has noted the gendered way that many critics, male and female alike, approached the album. This included mockery of Amos' performance style for being overly sexualized, and criticisms of the supposed lesbian subtext in the album's lyrics.