Tori Amos - Strange Little Girls Tori Amos
Strange Little Girls
(Atlantic)
½


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


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