An interesting review of Tori's Strange Little Girl album appeared in the September 20, 2001 issue of The Harvard Crimson newspaper. Many thanks to Woj for discovering this online at thecrimson.com. You can read the review at that web site, or below.
Tori! Tori! Tori!
By ANDREW J. ILIFF
Crimson Staff Writer
For her new album, piano-wielding diva Tori Amos has created distinct personalities for each of her 12 songs, complete with photos featuring Amos with 12 different hairstyles, costumes and names for each of her incarnations, with enigmatic phrases by Neil Gaiman to explain them: The heartless vamp of "I'm not in love" is labeled, "She forgets him utterly and forever;" while the serenely blonde figure of death from "Time" reminds: "One day you will open your eyes and see her." Yet the strangest girl amongst the lot, and probably the most interesting, is the only one you won't see in the shoot, Tori Amos herself.
The new album has music pundits slightly mystified--some have been describing Strange Little Girls as an album about the portrayal of women in pop music, and there may well be truth to that interpretation, but it is not nearly as simple or polemical as that. Tori has relegated her band to the background after their triumphant arrival on her 1999 release To Venus and Back. On Girls, she picks her way through a wash of reverberating keyboards, as on the Velvet Underground quiet-revolution opener "New Age," and even some solo piano work that recalls her early albums on "Real Men." All of these interpretations places the emphasis on her eerie masterful banshee's voice. The song that may well get the most attention, and with good reason, is her cover of Eminem's "'97 Bonnie and Clyde"--a song that was unnerving and spooky in Mr. Mather's hands becomes a horror story in miniature. Amos, without needing to change Eminem's lyrics, assumes instead the personalities of the murdered wife and bewildered child. Her falsetto refrain of, "Just the two of us" is so full of quiet menace and mourning that it becomes almost painful.
None of which helps to make sense of the rest of the album--Amos would never do anything as simple as presenting women as victims of male songwriters, or even as victorious over misogynist songwriters. Her take on 10cc's "I'm Not in Love" turns a slightly cutesy heartbreak ballad into a mechanist over-you diatribe worthy of Kraftwerk in its soulless accompaniment. She deadpans so flawlessly that there really is no doubt about her feelings towards the unfortunate subject of her song--let us hope he can peel himself off the pavement before anyone else comes by.
The first single from the album, the Stranglers' "Strange Little Girl," is the sort of quirky, electronic-influenced rock that Tori perfected on Venus, and will undoubtedly turn quite a few heads with its slick, sexy, guitar-driven hook. However, those who are drawn by this track alone will be deceived; though "Rattlesnakes" borders on the same territory, the bulk of the album explores radically different, uncharted ground. Her take on Tom Waits' "Time," is, despite the quantum difference in their voices, more or less straight on. She captures the sweet nostalgia of the track, giving it a particularly wistful feminine bent. Not so Neil Young's "Heart of Gold"--this slightly mournful folk song she warps into a blistering Valkyrie ride atop distorted guitars and multi-layered wailing vocals. At this point one starts to lose the supposed thread of the album--"Heart of Gold" is no more obviously about women, or men, than, say, "I still haven't found what I'm looking for." The Boomtown Rats' "I Don't Like Mondays," is an off-kilter pop song about a young girl who one day decides to shoot her classmates. But where the original gave perspectives from both sides of the gun, Amos entirely assumes the identity of the girl, singing a sugarcoated song of almost absent-minded violence--"And the lesson today is how to die."
The centrepiece of the album is "Happiness is a Warm Gun." Instead of the Beatles' metre-shifting, trippy free-association, Amos constructs a history of the Second Amendment. The song is particularly effective when you remember that the last time Tori Amos sang about guns was in her revelatory "Me and a Gun" on her first album Little Earthquakes--a song about her experience of being raped. "She's well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand," never sounded so sinister. The song stretches out and engulfs, this time with the band's accompaniment, laced with soulless defences of the amendment, while Amos intones, full of multiple meanings: "Mother Superior jump the gun." If this is an anti-gun rant, Amos would be the last to make it simple or easy.
The biggest change from the original, or at least the most obvious, is in Slayer's "Raining Blood." The bloodthirsty guitars of the unrepentant metal monsters are transmuted into pulsing, lowering keyboard wash, while the inarticulately angry lyrics are intoned in almost religious fashion. Again, the link to portrayals of women, or anything very much beyond sinister apocalyptic omens, is vague at best; the song is perhaps more a tribute from Tori's days in her early metal band Y Kant Tori Read. The album's closing track is a gender-bending version of Joe Jackson's "Real Men," in which the question about "who the real men are" becomes yet more doubtful in Tori's endlessly transforming, role-playing world.
Strange Little Girls is unlikely to win Amos legions of new fans, though those who are prepared to take the bizarre trip through her wires, down avenues of fancy and musical exploration, will be rewarded with some of the more intriguing music to emerge for quite a while. Intense, melodramatic and sometimes obscure, Tori Amos still leaves you vaguely wishing you were allowed to be as strange a girl as she.