Strange Little Girls

Tori Amos

Atlantic Records, 2001

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Any time you're out of the public eye for a length of time, especially in the music business, returning to view is always a dicey position. Will people remember who you are? Will your music still be in favor, or will the same people who sent your album to the top of the charts write you off as living in the past?

It's been two years since Tori Amos released her last album To Venus And Back, a combination studio/live effort. Okay, maybe two years isn't a long time to be out of the public eye; ask Tom Scholz of Boston. But it's been 10 years since Amos came to the forefront with her groundbreaking effort Little Earthquakes, and people still seem to hold her to that standard - myself included. I admit I lost interest in Amos after Boys For Pele - never mind the fact I have To Venus And Back and From The Choirgirl Hotel in the Pierce Memorial Archives, still never listened to.

What's so intriguing, then, about Strange Little Girls, Amos's return to center stage, in which she dusts off 12 covers from male-led bands and gives them a strong dose of estrogen? After all, it's not the first time Amos has focused her attention on cover-land; three-fifths of her EP Crucify from 1992 were covers.

Ah, but it's the way Amos attacks these songs, breaking them down to their simplest elements (and, in some cases, taking things a little too far) and giving them a fresh voice. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Strange Little Girls is not a perfect album, but it's got more than enough material to make me take a long second look at what Amos has been trying to accomplish with her music over the last five years.

Amos has always had a haunting aspect about her singing and performance styles - and this comes to the forefront on her cover of Eminem's "'97 Bonnie And Clyde". An interesting cover choice, you say? You're right - but who better to tackle a song about a rapper killing his wife in front of his child, then throwing her body into the lake, than Amos, who painfully documented her own rape experience on "Me And A Gun"? Honestly, this version of the song scares the absolute hell out of me - which is exactly what I think Amos was trying to accomplish. I've listened to this song about ten times, and I can't say I like it. But, maybe the issue wasn't getting the listener to like this cover, but rather to get them paying attention to the lyrics. In this case, it's the effectiveness which counts more than the performance itself.

In many cases, Amos does some wonderful things with the source material. Her cover of "New Age" is contemplative enough to bring back memories of Cowboy Junkies's "Sweet Jane," the last time I heard a Velvet Underground song covered so well. Likewise, her approaches to material from Joe Jackson ("Real Men"), The Boomtown Rats ("I Don't Like Mondays"), the Stranglers ("Strange Little Girl") and even Slayer ("Raining Blood") don't just open doors of discovery, they kick them down.

Were this always the case on Strange Little Girls. Amos's cover of Neil Young's "Heart Of Gold" takes a song which was already reflective in nature and adds a cacophony that just wasn't called for. Young's original was quiet and pensive; Amos's is disjointed and meandering. Likewise, her covers of Depeche Mode ("Enjoy The Silence") and 10cc ("I'm Not In Love") are a little too subdued to be effective; what could have been interesting interpretations become this season's musical NyQuil.

Still, Amos's goal to put an entirely different spin on familiar (at least for the most part) tracks is an approach that works well - even if her take on The Beatles's "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" is stretched on a little too long. The juxtaposition of news reports of John Lennon's assassination and what appear to be NRA speeches with the power of the music presents an argument for gun control that even Charlton Heston himself might find difficult to counter.

Strange Little Girls is more than Amos's return to the music scene after a two-year hiatus; it's the return of an artist who's never been afraid to test the waters by jumping head first into them. An album of covers was a risky move for Amos, but turns out to be, for the most part, a well-executed one.

Rating: B+

User Rating: C



© 2001 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atlantic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.