Tori Amos - Strange Little Girls Tori Amos
Strange Little Girls

If you leaf through the CD sleeve of her sixth studio album, Tori Amos looks like sheís trying to outdo Madonna. Strange Little Girls is an album of cover songs Ė not an unprecedented gambit for Amos, who scored in 1992 with a redefining piano rendition of Nirvanaís "Smells Like Teen Spirit," released on an EP that also featured covers of The Rolling Stonesí "Angie" and Led Zeppelinís "Thank You." But for Strange Little Girls, Amos has adopted "personas" of a series of different women, with a Madonna-like portrait book of different hair colors and looks to back those personalities up.

Amos says the disc is all about redefining songs written and performed by men with a womanís voice. And it will no doubt receive its most notoriety from her whispery, Southern-accented reading of Eminemís "í97 Bonnie & Clyde." Amosí version lacks the pop-hook quality that Eminemís rap version had when it was spliced with a Dido song. But Amosí storytelling delivery leaves more of a chill in the mind, as she completely encapsulates a wife-killerís thoughts and delivers them via "baby talk" to his newly motherless daughter. Her theory on this, and on all the songs, is that these very "male" lyrics sung through the voice and emotions of a woman will open up new layers of meaning for listeners in the songs. While that theory seems to apply to her cover of Eminem, most of these tracks seem to be simply covers Ė I donít hear the characters she says are singing these songs, I hear Tori Amos stripping back other artistsí songs to their basic emotional roots and piano melodies.

The success or failure of a "cover song" for an artist depends on a couple factors: the interest an audience has in hearing that song performed again, and the newness of the interpretation the artist brings to it. Strange Little Girls doesnít work consistently for me in part because, I must admit, I never was fond of some of the source material. Her dirgelike reading of 10CCís "Iím Not In Love" strips the song back to its base melody and a drumbeat, revealing the naked heart of a song that this listener would love to go through life never hearing again. Her choice of The Beatlesí "Happiness Is A Warm Gun," certainly has plenty of message at its heart, but little melodic interest. It was hard enough to listen to Lennon sing this one. I donít want to hear Amos behind it. She softens the classic delivery of The Boomtown Ratsí "I Donít Like Mondays," but otherwise doesnít bring anything new to the song.

There are complete rewrites, however. Slayer fans will probably hate her dark piano and ponderous echoey vocal reading of the metal bandís "Raining Blood." She also loses points for wailing the title over and over through a seemingly endless guitar jam cover of Neil Youngís "Heart of Gold." Youngís version has heart, Amosí angst. I vote for heart. "Raining Blood" and the CD opener, The Velvet Undergroundís "New Age," feature Amos at her electric piano, without much help from a band (sheís currently touring without a band, as well). And the albumís two most affecting tracks, aside from "97 Bonnie & Clyde," feature Amos alone at her acoustic piano. She makes Depeche Modeís melancholy "Enjoy The Silence" even more dark with minimal piano accompaniment, and delivers the discís prize, Tom Waitsí "Time," with a bittersweet breathiness and a somber piano ballad backdrop. This oneís as affecting a keeper as "Northern Lad" from her From the Choirgirl Hotel album. She also scores well with a quiet cover of Joe Jacksonís exploration of the roles of men, "Real Men," which closes the album.

There are some tracks here that people may want to hear for their novelty value, alone. But if I was to boil down this disc to the songs that Iíd want to really listen to more than once or twice, Iíd come up with few keepers. "Real Men," "Time," "New Age," and the discís first single, a full-band, fully developed rock cover of The Stranglersí "Strange Little Girls." Four out of 12 is not a good track record Ė Amos would be better served in developing her own melodies, dipping into the cover bin only occasionally to relive an old standard.

Tori Amos will appear live in a solo piano performance at Chicagoís Arie Crown Theatre on October 23.

New On The Shelves

God Bless America Columbia has pulled together an album to serve as a patriotic backdrop to the current "war on terrorism." God Bless America features Celine Dionís new recording of the title song, as well as Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Bandís new "Land of Hope and Dreams" and an acoustic version of John Mellencampís "Peaceful World." The disc features Frank Sinatraís 1945 version of "America The Beautiful," Lee Greenwoodís 1996 recording of "God Bless The U.S.A.," Pete Seegerís 1964 recording of "This Land Is Your Land," and a 1965 recording of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performing "The Star Spangled Banner." Other inspirational songs include Mariah Careyís "Hero," Tramaine Hawkinsí "Amazing Grace," Billy Gilmanís "Thereís A Hero," Bob Dylanís "Blowiní In The Wind," Simon & Garfunkelís "Bridge Over Troubled Water," Mahalia Jacksonís "We Shall Overcome," Gloria Estefanís "Coming Out of the Dark" and Bill Withersí "Lean on Me." Much of the proceeds from the disc will benefit the Twin Towers relief fundÖ

Journey - EssentialColumbia is capitalizing on Journeyís recent concert tour and new studio album by issuing a new two-CD collection called The Essential Journey. The new set still only covers the bandís recordings with vocalist Steve Perry (their latest album, Arrival, features Steve Augeri). The first disc of the new hits set follows almost the exact song order of their 1988 Greatest Hits album, adding in "When You Love A Woman" and "After The Fall." The new set however, covers Journeyís releases through 1996, offering three tracks from Trial By Fire, the bandís only 1990s release. The second CD of Essential Journey includes more "classic" Journey favorites that didnít appear on Greatest Hits like "Chain Reaction," "Stone in Love," "Still They Ride" and "Just the Same Way," among othersÖ

Columbiaís soundtrack to the new Bruce Willis movie, Bandits, also has a mix of old and new songs, but in more of a folk-rock and easy listening vein. Jimmy Page & Robert Plant lead it off with "Gallows Pole," and Bob Dylan offers "Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum" from his new Love and Theft album. Bonnie Tylerís hits "Holding Out For A Hero" and "Total Eclipse of the Heart" turn up, as do Aretha Franklinís "Walk on By," Tanita Tikaramís "Twist in My Sobriety," Grover Washington Jr. & Bill Withersí "Just the Two of Us" and Michael Martin Murpheyís "Wildfire." Newer material includes Five for Fightingís current hit single "Superman (Itís Not Easy)," Pete Yornís "Just Another" and Mark Knopflerís "Rudiger." The disc also includes the orchestral "Bandits Suite" from Christopher Young.

ZoolanderThe Hollywood Records soundtrack to Ben Stillerís Zoolander includes The Wiseguysí current hit dance mix single "Start The Commotion," as well as older dance hits like Frankie Goes To Hollywoodís "Relax," Wham!ís "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," Herbie Hancockís "Rockit," and a Moby remix of Michael Jacksonís "Beat It." It also is heavy on remakes, including newcomer Nikka Costaís revamp of Blondieís "Call Me," No Doubtís remake of the disco standard "Love to Love You Baby," and Rufus Wainwrightís cover of the classic Hollies hit "He Ainít Heavy, Heís My Brother" as well as Powerman 500ís attack on "Relax and The Wallflowers version of the Bee Geesí "I Started a Joke." Orgy, BT, Freestylers and The Crystal Method also turn upÖ.