Musikexpress/Sounds Magazine (Germany)
October 2001

Updated Oct 3, 2001

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There is a Tori article and album review in the October 2001 issue of Musikexpress/Sounds magazine in Germany. Thanks to Martin aka JEFFERSON, Susanne Helmer and Benni Herz for sending this to me. Martin translated both the article and the review for us from German into English. The article is first below, followed by the review. You can read part of the article online at the Musikexpress web site. The magazine also printed a small biography, which is not included here. It reveals nothing new.


Written in German language by Christoph Lindemann.

Please keep in mind that translations are rarely perfect and can sometimes change the meaning of the original...

The Roleplay

Singer and pianist Tori Amos covers songs by men on her new CD and looks for the sign of the times in them.

Tori Amos is on brilliant form. Sie talks about "the stew of sexes", "laboratory men", the "nasty universe", "baby demons" and the "lucifer essence". "This is really important now", she calls for attention while lecturing about the complex and multi-layered backgrounds of her new album "Strange Little Girls". Dressed in a skirt and a pink blouse she has seated herself on the couch of her completely white suite in the London Sanderson Hotel to talk about her new project -- a collection of interpretations of mostly well-known songs of other writers, among them "'97 Bonnie & Clyde" by Eminem. "Let me explain this by an example from the greek mythology", she says smilingly. "An example we all know: Demeter, Persephone and Hades ..." The 38-year-old's intelligence and the vocabulary are breathtaking. She answers simple questions unbridledly, deals with fairies, Auschwitz and shamen in one breath without ever losing the plot. She grips her opposite with wide gesturing and direct eye-contact while she builds whole sentences out of terminologic rarities. She may entagle herself in long monologues and irritatingly intimate anecdotes ("I've spent a lot of time on chasing the princes of darkness in games of power and sex...") but she always finds her way back to the topic.

So on we go to her new album. Those who want to enjoy it have to understand it. Though each song has an own and -- regarding the project as a whole -- new meaning, still the overall concept is predominantly relevant: with "Strange Little Girls" Tori Amos explores the differences between men and women. Each of the twelve tracks was written by men -- and now each of them gets interpreted from a female point of view. Without changing one word of the original lyrics. For every song Tori has created a female character in her fantasy (own look included -- see pictures) who makes the lyrics her own. "It wasn't planned that way", she states with surprise and delivers an explanation that's typical Tori: "I thought I could creep behind the eyes of those men -- and then i'd understand what they were saying. But you have to follow the spiritual laws, the universe is nasty about this. For every man I had to put up a new woman." Sometimes she got an image of these women, to whom Tori Amos now feels "connected", by listening to a track just once. More often though a bit more effort was necessary: "I invited a body of experts", "laboratory men. We discussed for ages what we thought about these songs, what they mean to everyone of us."

Inspired by these discussions Tori Amos went into her studio in Cornwall and gave a new feeling to the old songs. She did it with success: When a woman stresses every single dark word of Slayer's "Raining Blood" with patient attention, some entirely new associations develop. "If a woman sings words that were written by a man, she will emphasize some of the words differently. She will give a new frequency to some parts. And thus you can understand how women hear the things that men say. It's a thrilling research project -- it stimulates me. Just the other way round is impossible for me: I can't show you what men hear when we females talk -- not in this life."

Through Tori's voice Eminem's "'97 Bonnie & Clyde" gets a new perspective as well: "In that song Eminem is just interested in the father who kills his wife", Tori explains. "He tells the story from the offender's point of view, he talks about the incident and the relationship he has with his daughter. I was fascinated by this piece of work because it deals with a topic that's thousands of years old: domestic violence. But I wanted to know what the mother hears who is dying in the trunk. She knows that her daughter is being drawn into the deed by the offender. That her daughter is gonna live forever with being the accomplice. To me that is the interesting point in the song." Tori Amos is showing her interest in a lot of different topics. Neil Young's "Heart Of Gold" for example becomes a critical observation of the western economy system in the trashy lo-fi version on "Strange Little Girls". "Gold, you understand? Gold!", Tori says urgently as if it was obvious. "I am not an opponent to free economy, but we all know that it has its dark sides. Everybody can justify what they are doing but nobody sees the consequences it might have on our children", she says and then -- after a moment of thoughtful silence -- burts into laughter: "God bless Neil! I've heard that he loves my version."

Tori Amos makes herself vulnerable with the new concept album. "There is no criteria for judging my own compositions", she says. "I can say: 'These are my song babies, you don't have to like them.' But when I choose other people's stories, then everything has to be right. Each story has to be powerful, it has to reflect an aspect of our time." "Strange Little Girls" has nothing in common with the cover versions of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or "Angie" which Amos once recorded merely for fun. Each of the carefully chosen songs is a major piece of a puzzle that -- as a "sum of its parts" -- makes the album a piece of art. While earlier on Tori Amos found inspiration for her songs in personal and extremely intimate experience such as the sexual trauma of a rape at gunpoint ("Little Earthqaukes") or the painful break-up with her long-term partner Eric Rosse ("Boys For Pele")or the miscarriage of a daughter ("From The Chirgirl Hotel"), today she takes the viewpoint of a critical observer. The songs transport political messages. "It was high time", she says with a line of worry on her forehead. "After those outbursts of violence at American schools my nieces and nephews told me about their fear when they sent me E-Mails. The kids don't feel safe any more."

Violence in any possible form is a topic which Tori Amos has dealt with ever since she herself became the victim of a sexual crime when she was an adolescent. In the winter of 1997 she reacted sort of touchily when The Prodigy turned violence against women into music -- in a seemingly indifferent and unreflected manner. "I didn't find 'Smack MY Bitch Up' cutting edge at all", she said at the time. "When you say something like that then you have to stand behind it. Then you you just have to be sincere and say: 'Okay, I've beaten up my girl, that's my statement -- love me or hate me.' But you can't just shock people and then not stand behind it."

This opinion has even strengthened since Tori Amos gave birth to her daughter Natashya in September 2000: "When you raise a girl", she said in early summer, "then you just have a lot of time to think. Since I have a daughter I put my ear on the planet and I listen what people talk about. The new record is a reaction to what I've heard." She wanted to give "the chance to get heard" to the abused mother in Eminem's horror song. And she wanted to wake up the people at the same time. If songwriters -- as the artist says -- are "the conscience of an era", then the collection on "Strange Little Girls" is shocking in large parts.

Tori Amos found a mystical and interesting explanation for the sudden escalation of seemingly non-motivated violence at schools in the US, as she describes them in her version of Bob Geldof's "I Don't Like Mondays", among Indians: "I am lucky to have access to shamen, medicine men and women", Tori, whose grandfather was a direct descendant of the Cherokee Indians, explains. "And the original American inhabitants", she says, "see the reason for the lack of responsibility with which kids take a weapon in the lack of connection to mother earth. When you start a conflict with the earth then you start a conflict with your ancestors, you start a conflict with the shadow creatures. We're speaking of lucifer essence here", she says, "and we should deal with that as soon as we can."

Commercially Tori Amos didn't make any compromises with "Strange Little Girls". Songs such as "I'm Not In Love" or "Heart Of Gold" might sound faimliar to everyone's ears -- Tori's intensive alternations are not very useful for easy listening. Ron Shapiro, general manager of Atlantic Records and responsible for Amos' marketing, chooses his words with care: "If you're recording songs that many people care for a lot then you provoke some extreme reactions. But Tori is courageous and very much not afraid and God bless her for that."

Even though after "Little Earthquakes" and "Under The Pink" none of her albums has gained double platinum status, Tori Amos has maintained an unlimited artistic freedom that isn't very common in her business. Her business partners have asked her several times to conquer a mass audience with conformistic and harmonic songs. The pianist, who at the age of 11 was thrown off the conservatory for artistic stubbornness, was not willing to move off any inch of her musical vision. She didn't worry too much that during the last years many of her fans didn't find access to works such as "From The Choirgirl Hotel" or "To Venus And Back". And "Strange Little Girls" does sound resisting -- at least on first listen. But perhaps some of the fans who have marched off might find their way back exactly with this record. Because her interpretations of strange songs make "Strange Little Girls" Tori's most personal album in years.

SLG Review

Written in German language by Oliver Goetz.

Tori Amos interpretes songs by famous men -- from a female perspective.

It's the edges that amos is dealing with. She has to be in friction and she has to turn her inside out -- it's just the surface that is smooth. For STRANGE LITTLE GIRLS she roughens up the songs of others. But what first looks like an illustre collection of cover versions is quite more than that. All songs have been penned by men and deal with male roles. Tori Amos' interpretations are those of the women and girls who are the songs' heroines, different characters she plays, fills and feels. She doesn't want answers but the female and absolutely uncompromising interpretations of those words. Often enough a beat box and an (e-)piano are enough -- and her voice's intensity. Rather voluntarily Amos finds the power and the soul in classics as "New Age" by Velvet Underground or Tom Waits' "Time" or Depeche Mode's "Enjoy The Silence". Amos stays conciliatory when doing "Strange Little Girl" by The Stranglers, almost contemplatively opening up to the girl who doesn't like installation work running amok.But then 10CC's "I'm Not In Love" almost collapses, Neil Young's "Heart Of Gold" staggers and aches as if under great pain, Amos drives The Beatles' "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" against the wall in a confused and spheric way. That she won't let escape someone like Eminem and his murder fantasies is obvious: "Half of the world dances to that song without realizing that they're wading in blood." The dancing stops with Tori Amos. The strings twirl around dramatically like a soundtrack from the next room. The horror creeps into one's neck whispering and heavily. "I wanted, no, I had to give this woman a voice." A voice from the hereafter. Amos drifts away totally ghostly on "Raining Blood". Ghosts that Slayer have called upon -- and that they'll now never get rid off.

4 out of 6 points.

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