Strange Little Girls
Atlantic Records, 2001
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/23/2005
The thought of Tori Amos doing a full album of covers was cause for celebration for many-a-Tori fans. In concerts, she has treated her fans to devastating covers of The Rolling Stones' "Thank You," Prince's "Purple Rain" and most famous, Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Like Margo Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies, Tori has a knack of doing covers that occasionally surpass the original material. So, the though of Tori covering such classics as Neil Young's "Heart of Gold," Slayer's "Raining Blood" and Eminem's "'97 Bonnie and Clyde" was cause to celebrate.
So… what the hell happened?
For most longtime fans of an artist, there is one album that puts fan loyalty to the limit. Bob Dylan's Self Portrait, Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music and for Tori Amos fans, many cite either Boys For Pele or Strange Little Girls as "deal breaking" albums. In interviews, Amos stated Strange Little Girls was not a "covers" album. Putting a female voice and perspective to well-known tracks, one of Amos's goals was to get the listener to see some of the material in a different perspective. And for some tracks, it works to a chilling effect.
The track that received the most press was her cover of Eminem's "'97 Bonnie and Clyde." In Tori's version, you can perceive the song to be the silenced voice of the mother in the trunk in Eminem's tale of him murdering his estranged wife and taking their child along to help give the mother a burial at the bottom of a lake. While Eminem's cartoonish vocals and the initial shock of hearing the contents in 1999 slightly deadened the reprehensible subject matter, Amos's version holds your feet to the fire of the subject matter. Her cooing baby talk and slightly mocking accents make it one of the most hard to endure songs to listen to in recent memory. Still, while her cover is effective, it doesn't necessarily make it a great song.
That's the problem with the majority of Strange Little Girls. While you can definitely see how giving a feminine perspective to "Raining Blood," "Strange Little Girls" and "Happiness Is AWarm Gun" would be inventive, some of the tunes are half-baked, over-produced or even worse: boring. Her noisy, guitar-drenched cover of "Heart Of Gold" reeks of pretentiousness. For the anti-gun rendition of "Happiness Is AWarm Gun," all Tori would have had to do is sing the song with her own voice to convey a stark anti-gun message - instead the listener must wade through sound bites ranging from news reports of John Lennon's assassination to George W. Bush sound clips. Tori may be thought-provoking, but she usually has enough respect for her audience not to take a cheap route and needlessly beat the audience over the head with a technique as cheap as using news sound bites.
Some tracks are good enough to almost merit a used copy purchase. Her cover of Lou Reed's "New Age," her tongue-in-cheek cover of Joe Jackson's "Real Men" and the absolutely beautiful rendition of uh…Slayer's "Raining Blood" rival some of Amos's best covers from her Little Earthquakes and Under The Pink era. But, in terms as a whole, Strange Little Girls is a mess of an album. Too avant-garde for its own good, too boring in places where it shouldn't be and too off-putting for even the most patient of listeners, Strange Little Girls is a failed experiment that can't even be admired for its ambitions.