By Chris Willman
Updated September 24, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

”Silent All These Years,” Tori Amos’ first single and one of the key songs of the ’90s, was all about a woman finding her voice. But in the studio half of the two-CD To Venus and Back, Amos spends a good amount of time throwing that voice. Forsaking her up-front chops and brash lyricism, this disc is more Tori in an Ambient Mood, with electronic effects on a half-dozen cuts that sound like they could’ve been produced by old pal Trent Reznor.

There are straight pop songs, too — ”1,000 Oceans” is her most traditional ballad since Little Earthquakes‘ ”Winter” — but mainly a sense that she’s hiding beneath the percussive soundscapes. Good luck deciphering what she’s saying, but it’s the most enjoyable listen she’s generated in years; maybe reclaiming some feminine mystique is an equally valid form of empowerment.

If you prefer the older, more provocative (or at least loudly cryptic) Amos, there’s Venus’ second disc, a full live album, complete with confrontive concert standards like ”Precious Things” and ”Waitress.” Amid expanded full-band arrangements, you can revisit the bold breathiness that made it possible for future cornflake girls like Paula Cole to come along and hyperventilate on record…and try not to hold that against her. B