The Washington Post
September 19, 2001

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Tori's Strange Little Girls album was reviewed in the September 19, 2001 edition of The Washington Post. Thanks to Richard Handal and Linda for being the first to tell me about it. You can read the review at The Washington Post web site or below.

'Girls': Tori Amos Goes On a Gender-Bender

By Arion Berger
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, September 19, 2001; Page C05

Tori Amos is at it again. Piano-rock's feminist shaman picks up her skull-topped staff and exorcises the demons of misogyny from a dozen pop songs written and originally sung by men. And somehow she pulls it off.

Everything that should be bad about this experiment is good: its self-indulgence, its hoary/tacky precedents (from David Bowie to Duran Duran), its strident purpose, even the fact that it expands on a previous Tori trope. With her 1992 cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Amos seemingly performed an act of cashing in on the nation's No. 1 song that, in truth, was totally non-expedient. In fact, it seemed demented that this animated art-muse could turn the unintelligible grunge anthem into a majestically bleeding piano ballad.

She didn't have a hit with "Teen Spirit" (or with her beautiful cover of the Rolling Stones' "Angie"), and didn't mean to. She was taking popular music back underground, turning a hit into a cult artifact. On the new CD, "Strange Little Girls," Amos swims through the murky waters of men, women and violence, toying with the masks of aggression and victimization. If this all sounds very women's studies-ish, it is, but it works as a disturbing pop experiment, recontextualizing these male fantasies and fears in sometimes startling ways.

Out of the most harmless, forgotten or canonized pop songs, Amos teases threads of disgust and paternalism. The title song becomes more of what it is -- one of the Stranglers' many obnoxiously entertaining lager-lout paeans to the weaker sex, funny and frightening in Amos's earnest voice. Depeche Mode's goth-disco hit "Enjoy the Silence" is revealed as naive and trifling -- a gorgeous melody laid bare against Amos's impressionistic keyboards, powering glib truisms about intimacy. Her tendency to build piano-driven mountains out of rock-and-roll molehills serves her beautifully on a dour, slow-rolling version of Slayer's "Raining Blood." "Real Men," Joe Jackson's exploration of male sexual roles, becomes a series of gentle taunts in the mouth of a confident young woman. The melody is, of course, intact; Amos and Jackson are compositional sisters under the skin.

On Neil Young's pained Summer of Love ballad "Heart of Gold," Amos flattens out the melody rather than accentuating it, singing in a fevered Kate Bush monotone with overlaid guitar feedback that Young himself would recognize from his deliberately annoying masterpiece "Arc/Weld." It's as messy as a barrel of snakes and more an anguished cry for love than the hippie optimism of the original.

Amos succeeds less vividly on the Beatles' "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," ironic in its original crooning lilt; here, it's funkified and desultory, made soggy with spoken clips of news reports and politicians. Another obvious choice, "I Don't Like Mondays," deservedly the only semi-hit for new-wave oddities the Boomtown Rats, tinkles along like a lullaby, Amos's voice starkly up front. Because the song was originally written from a female point of view, Amos brings little to the conversation beyond simply taking the frighteningly numb words out of Bob Geldof's mouth.

But the mere act of male-to-female transformation has a far-reaching effect on Eminem's " '97 Bonnie & Clyde." Stripped of hip-hop aggression and whispered over darkly bowed strings, the story is anguished and unfunny -- a dead woman's message to her uncomprehending child. "Strange Little Girls" isn't easy listening, but it's a powerful argument for the pop adage that it's the singer, not the song.

Tori Amos is scheduled to perform Oct. 6 and 7 at Constitution Hall.

(c) 2001 The Washington Post Company

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