September 20, 2001

Added Oct 15, 2001

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Amy alerted me to this not so positive review of Strange Little Girls from the September 20, 2001 edition of the newspaper Newsday, which is in the New York area.

Tori's Not Quite Herself Lately

Album of songs by men is smart, but joyless

By Glenn Gamboa

CONCEPT ALBUMS rarely work as good music - usually too highfalutin, often too forced, and almost always more concerned with keeping to the ideal of the concept than the ideal of the album.

"Strange Little Girls" (Atlantic), the latest from Tori Amos, is the mother of all concept albums, where the very female singer-songwriter takes on 12 songs written by men.

Amos tackles a variety of songs, from Eminem's "'97 Bonnie and Clyde" to the Boomtown Rats' "I Don't Like Mondays" to Neil Young's "Heart of Gold," and retells them from the female perspective.

It's quite a good concept. Unfortunately, it's not a very good album.

Since her breakthrough album "Little Earthquakes" in 1991, Amos has built a fiercely loyal fan base and solid reputation among critics for stretching the boundaries of rock and breaking the stereotypes of what a female rocker should be like. In her own music, she has told wrenchingly honest songs in a powerful way, filling the tales with the force of her personality and the joy of triumphing over adversity.

That's really what "Strange Little Girls" lacks. The album is smart, but utterly joyless. Her point is razor sharp: Some men say some amazingly hurtful things about women. However, that's no real revelation.

Her reworking of Eminem's "'97 Bonnie and Clyde" is the most disturbing example. Amos turns Eminem's creepy rap - about a husband who murders his wife, then takes his young daughter along while he dumps the body into a lake - into an even creepier spoken word piece with a sparse backdrop. By making sure each word is understood, she transforms it from an objectionable, yet catchy song into something so dark and chilling it becomes a drain to hear. It's a powerful point for her to make, but a painful one for the listener to live through time and time again.

On her version of Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence," she squeezes all the life out of the song, slowing it down and removing all the grand synthesizer soundscapes of the original. It sounds like she's mocking the original's celebration of the strong, silent type, condensing the melody into a grueling, grating monotone.

For some reason, Amos believes these songs can't maintain a personality and still fit together. She turns The Beatles' "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" into a piano-driven dirge to offset all the pro-gun snippets she drops into the song. She strips Lloyd Cole and the Commotions' "Rattlesnakes" of its jangly charms.

At least her nearly unrecognizable version of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold," with all its fuzzed-up guitar and unhinged vocals, has some fire to it.

Even when Amos sticks close to the originals, her slight changes cleverly twist the song's meaning. On the Boomtown Rats' original "I Don't Like Mondays," the song builds to exasperation and seeming disbelief. Amos' version grows calmer as the song goes along, as if "the lesson today is how to die" is no big deal. On Joe Jackson's "Real Men," she mutes the triumphant emotional climax of the ending.

"Strange Little Girls" is a tough sell. As cerebral as it seems, it all really boils down to a downhearted preciousness that isn't all that rewarding. It's a concept that probably sounded good on the drawing board. But maybe that's where it should have stayed.

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