San Francisco Chronicle
Tori's Strange Little Girls album was reviewed in the September 23, 2001 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper in the U.S.. Thanks to Joel for telling me.
POP CDs/Ambiguous Amos
Tori Amos' new album, "Strange Little Girls," rests on an intriguing premise: a female singer-songwriter retooling male-penned rock songs from a woman's perspective. Even more compelling are some of Amos' choices, which run from the Beatles' "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" and the Velvet Underground's "New Age" to the Boomtown Rats' "I Don't Like Mondays" and Eminem's much-discussed murder ballad, " '97 Bonnie & Clyde."
There's been speculation on exactly how the selections on Amos' new album might tweak and twist music's masculine paradigm. How does the male gaze, articulated through music, alter when reflected back from the eyes of its feminine object? With the album on the shelves, the question remains open. "Strange Little Girls" offers many voices in many engaging guises, but it's hard to tell what they're trying to say.
A stripped-down version of 10CC's "I'm Not in Love," for instance, while an interesting experiment in aural minimalism, has little thematic impact. Yes, it accurately punches holes in a man's denial of his romantic obsession ("I keep your picture upon the wall/ It hides a nasty stain still lying there"), but the singer's dubious tone (the more he protests, the more obvious his passion becomes) was already integral to the original version. A target this obvious -- men who flee emotion while simultaneously craving it -- is so broad it disqualifies potential interpretive bull's-eyes.
Similarly, while Amos' noise-rocking "Heart of Gold" shines for its radical revision of the original's folk style, its sexual politics are vague, perhaps because the original had little to say about sexual politics in the first place. The reasoning here is so subtle it confounds.
The CD does score a triumph in a three-song progression that begins with " '97 Bonnie & Clyde." Reciting Eminem's lyrics word for word, Amos filters his rhymes through the narrator's dead girlfriend, whose bleeding body rests in his car trunk. Em's front-seat dialogue with his daughter is repeated in the voice of her slain mother, a mimicry made more effective by Amos' tone of bitter resignation when she whispers lines such as "Mommy's messy, isn't she?/ We'll let her wash off in the water."
Next comes a cover of "Strange Little Girl" by the Stranglers -- a band once vilified for its sexist lyrics -- that seems to trace the genesis of the killer's child into womanhood as she tries to forge an identity from a psyche scarred by murder. Finally, with Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence," Amos directly addresses this "strange little girl" -- and simultaneously answers a question posed in another Eminem song, "Stan," in which the rapper famously responds to his own "Bonnie & Clyde" controversy.
In "Stan," Em wonders, "How much damage can you do with a pen?"; in "Enjoy the Silence," Amos responds, "Words are varied -- They can only do harm/Words like violence/ Break the silence/ -- Painful to me/ Pierced right through me/ Can't you understand, my little girl?"
Other tracks are fine listening simply because Amos is a fine artist to listen to. She eloquently expresses female violence in a crooned, childlike version of "I Don't Like Mondays" and takes "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" to its logical political-sexual extreme by opening with a man's lecture on second- amendment rights and ending with hints of a woman's breathy pleasure in "jump(ing) the gun."
"Strange Little Girls" is the work of a talented songsmith, but it's also an album in search of its own meaning. That might well be Amos' intention -- to open up rock's masculine hegemony to multiple interpretations by running it through a feminine filter. Unfortunately, the result is more a noble experiment than a coherent manifesto. Clear statements demand a clear voice, and "Strange Little Girls" offers only a chorus of ambiguities.
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