Las Vegas CityLife
September 22, 2001

Added Sept 23, 2001

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Tori's Strange Little Girls album was reviewed in the September 22, 2001 edition of the Las Vegas CityLife newspaper. The reviewer clearly points out what differentiates SLG from being a normal cover album. Thanks to Denrick Bayot for telling me about this review!

Under the pink: Tori Amos' feminized interpretations of male-penned songs results in the most audacious album of 2001

By Mike Prevatt

To say there's been a dearth of creativity in the arts this year is an understatement. When film critics are championing the re-release of Apocalypse Now as the "best film of the year," you know there's a sad state of affairs.

In pop music, it's no different. There's some releases generating buzz, but like the Apocalypse Now Redux phenomenon, they're entrenched in nostalgia. Spoon? The Strokes? Daft Punk? White Stripes? It's all been done before, guys. Blatant ripoffs of reliable brands only go so far. If you're going to nick material from artists who did all the grunt work back in the day, at least put your own stamp on it. Better yet, steal it, and try to make it your own.

Tori Amos has done just that, on what may be the most ambitious album of her career. The Cornflake Girl's Strange Little Girls is, on the surface, an album of cover songs. Now, before you can say The Spaghetti Incident, keep the following in mind: Amos has taken 12 songs, all written by men, and performs them from the perspective of a female, as a way of understanding the male point of view.

In the process, she has completely redefined the meanings of the songs tackled here. The Beatles' "Happiness is a Warm Gun," for instance, is transformed from the Fab Four's blues-pop stomper, to a 10-minute, soundbite-sampling journey into Second Amendment dementia. So what's the chick angle? According to Amos, Mark David Chapman allegedly conversed with a call girl before murdering John Lennon; "Happiness" is that escort's vision.

At first listen, Amos' feminine mystique isn't so obvious. But her unquestionably unique and alternative interpretation of each cover is. There isn't a song on Strange Little Girls that smacks of the original song. From her seductively rockin' go at Neil Young's folk classic "Heart of Gold" (the only song voiced from the viewpoints of twins), to the softly affectionate, down-and-out Vegas showgirl treatment of Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence," Amos isn't playing pop karaoke here--she's altering the essence of each song, each element revealing additional dynamics. Every cover here is a discovery.

There's no songwriter who's safe from Amos' deconstruction--or, rather, reconstruction--whether it be Tom Waits ("Time") or Slayer ("Raining Blood"). Her bittersweet go at The Boomtown Rats' 1979 classic, "I Don't Like Mondays," almost belies the song's original meaning: The real-life, pre-Columbine account of a San Diego girl who open fired at school. But, in fact, it's almost more heartbreaking the way Amos delicately delivers it--as an officer discovering the slain high schoolers.

Which brings us to Eminem. On one hand, a concept album such as this could only include a cover of misogynist supastar Slim Shady. On the other hand, covering the rapper's most violent and controversial song, "'97 Bonnie and Clyde," is hands down the boldest move of Amos' career. When Eminem performs the song--the story of a father dumping the wife he's just slashed to death over a bridge, with daughter in tow--it's a psychotic hip-hop number. In Amos' hands--singing as the dead mother in the trunk--the song takes on the atmosphere of a Stanley Kubrick movie: black humor, chilling instrumentation and icy uncertainty. The effect is nearly terrifying--and one Eminem will be hard pressed to top should he ever perform the song again. If that's not enough, Amos segues "Bonnie" into the Stranglers' "Strangle Little Girl," Amos' account of that same daughter who watched Dad toss Mom into the lake. And she does this without altering a single word of the primary song.

Amos has never shied away from unconventional musical presentations; her sound, from her 1992 debut Little Earthquakes, to 1999's To Venus and Back, has always remained distinct. Here, she not only progresses as an artist, with her vast instrumental tinkerings, but reshapes pop tradition as well. Done by another artist, the project would have likely failed. With Amos at the helm, it's the most daring and intriguing album of the year so far. We can only hope 12 male artists somewhere are already prepping an album full of Amos covers. "Professional Widow"? "Precious Things"? "Me and a Gun"? We can hardly wait.

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