ALBUM REVIEW : * * TORI AMOS, "Boys for Pele", Atlantic

There are only two possible explanations for the utter indecipherability of Amos' lyrics: (1) She is an enemy spy sending brilliantly encrypted messages to her compatriots in foreign lands or (2) The Cornflake Girl is really just a flake.

On her third solo album, Amos has been left almost entirely to her own devices, producing the album as well as writing its 18 songs. The result is a seriously self-indulgent work that labors to obscure her considerable talents, including a wonderful agility on the piano and a voice that can shift instantly from tender to tyrannical.

Nothing on "Boys for Pele" has the immediate appeal of "Crucify" or "Me and a Gun." And for each time the album reveals something to admire, it frustrates you with such lines as "Tuna/rubber/a little blubber in my igloo" or a brief, pointless excursion into gospel ("Way Down").

Maybe Amos doesn't care what we think. Maybe she cares desperately and will do anything to get our attention. But one thing's for sure: If she gets any stranger, she just might give Julian Cope a run for his money as the once-mainstream artist who has drifted furthest toward the fringe.

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