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September 21, 2001

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Tori's Strange Little Girls album was reviewed on September 21, 2001 on the Sonicnet.com web site. It got a rating of 3 1/2. Thanks to Felicity Edwards for telling me.


(View)Point Of Interest

By Chris Nelson

Confrontationally emotional singer/songwriter/pianist Tori Amos devised a unique concept for her sixth album, Strange Little Girls: she covers a dozen songs penned by a wide cadre of men, from Joe Jackson to Slayer. Rather than interpreting the tunes, she inhabits them, searching for a distinctively female angle to the compositions. As such, this atmospheric, hazy set is not your typical covers recording. Nor is it (for the most part) some half-baked, earth-mother pap. Surprisingly, Strange Little Girls is a street project daring, visceral and engaging, even when it's not fully successful.

Amos' decision not to alter the lyrics from their male perspectives may seem odd, particularly on a song such as Eminem's notorious wife-murder tale " '97 Bonnie and Clyde". But it actually strengthens the work, in that the narrator here a woman who's been killed by a husband who tries to make a game with his daughter of hiding the body doesn't come across as a victim, at least in the usual sense. In Amos' version, the music is pure cinema soundtrack. Strings cut back and forth with the insistence of a heartbeat. But it's Amos' whisper, which comes across crisper than an oak leaf in November, that's so haunting. You can imagine this is the mother's voice calling from beyond death, maybe trying to tell her daughter what really happened, or perhaps bedeviling the husband, like Poe's telltale heart.

Violence echoes through the album like shots in a narrow alleyway. The Beatles' "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" comes to us here (as we're told in descriptions and photos of the characters Amos assumes) through the eyes of an escort whom Mark David Chapman is said to have called before shooting John Lennon. It's considerably more interesting than the news reports and lectures on the Second Amendment right to bear arms that Amos samples in this 10-minute track. Her delicate rendition of the Boomtown Rats' "I Don't Like Mondays" inspired by a 1979 U.S. school shooting is less experimental, but more satisfying for its palpable sympathy.

Several of the album's "strange little girls" aren't strange in Amos' view (this is, after all, a woman whose 1996 Boys for Pele album included a photo of her nursing a pig), but rather only through the eyes of a restrictive society. On Jackson's "Real Men," Amos embraces androgyny, while the version of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground's "New Age" finds her aching vocals accentuating not the adventurousness of loving outside the norm ("It seems to be my fancy/ To make it with Frank and Nancy"), but the vulnerability.

Giving voice to the voiceless has been an Amos imperative as far back as the sexual assault song "Me and a Gun," from her debut, Little Earthquakes (1991). That's the point here as well, and it's summed up in the opening of her skeletal vocal-and-piano cover of Depeche Mode's new wave "Enjoy the Silence": "Words like violence/ Break the silence." For Amos, words can be as powerful as blows and the people who speak them need to take responsibility for them.



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Please give me feedback, comments, or suggestions about A Dent In The Tori Amos Net Universe. Email me (Mikewhy) at mikewhy@iglou.com