Here we are now, entertain us . . .
The concept: an album of cover songs written by males sung from a female’s perspective. The guilty party executing said concept: Tori Amos. Thrill to hardcore fans alternately scratching their heads over this one, trying to decide if Tori created yet another “great” album, misfired completely, or just handed in a contract-fulfilling product. Thrill to this reviewer who isn’t in that camp simply decreeing this album as just plain old boring.
There was a time when I was under the impression that I liked Tori Amos. That was about 10 years ago, right before I graduated from high school. I had bought Amos’ Little Earthquakes and found it compelling enough to take my girlfriend to see Tori’s live show when she trotted through town. We were both looking forward to it. When the night of the concert arrived and we were knee-deep in Tori going at it solo with just her voice and piano, it dawned on me that I really wasn’t enjoying her music at all. This revelation came to me during Tori’s covers of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. During both tunes, the audience chuckled to itself, taking in both tunes as novelty items. I just saw Tori completely destroying two great tunes. And that was that.
The fans of course will tell you that Amos’ various covers throughout the years have been a highlight of her work. Well, now they have a whole album to deal with. Twelve tracks ranging from the Velvet Underground to the Beatles. I keep wondering when other musicians will finally quit covering the Fab Four and thus ending an unnecessary flow of bad covers (there have been exceptions, but they are few and far between). Anyway, here is Tori cranking out her takes on these great (and not so great) songs, alienating a few fans along the way and continuing to prove to those of us who aren’t fans that Amos is more than just a little pretentious most days.
Strange Little Girls opens with the Velvet Underground’s “New Age”, originally from their final LP Loaded. Here, Tori finds it necessary to groan out each word, her voice trembling and moaning, full of melodrama, ultimately destroying the original version’s delicate beauty. It sounds like she wants to sound sexy, yet pained. I can’t help but think of Britney Spears and her incessant grunting when she “sings” her songs when I hear Tori do the same thing with this one. Pass.
Next up is Eminem’s “‘97 Bonnie and Clyde”. You know, the one about the guy carrying around his lover’s corpse around in the trunk of his car. Yeah, that one. Well here Tori matter of factly reads the lyrics, nay, narrates them over a string section. I never was a fan of Em’s, but dammit, this one just had me cringing and longing once again for the original cut. I almost wanted to laugh out loud. The former shock rock was now diluted into campy theatrics. Perhaps Eminem will now sell a few million more records thanks to newly curious music fans. Ah, the irony of it all. However, I can’t see anyone rushing out to buy any of the Stranglers’ releases after hearing Amos’ take on their “Strange Little Girls”. Hint to those people: you’re missing out if you don’t seek out the original.
Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy The Silence” is stripped down, allowing Tori to jump back into Little Earthquakes territory with its simple piano/strings format. Her voice is double tracked, one Tori groaning out the words once more while the other Tori goes a little higher up the scale, twisting and bending the lyrics this way and that. You’ve heard it all before. Amos also strips away 10cc’s classic “I’m Not In Love”, turning it into a ghost of its former self. Where the original had an ambient, almost unearthly-like quality, here it’s drained of all life, propped up with a thin beat and Tori’s detached emoting. I have to say that this cut is just flat out terrible. Seriously.
The same can be said for Amos’ desecration of the Boomtown Rats’ “I Don’t Like Mondays”, which gets turned into an electric piano-based number, once more slowed down and drained by the musical succubus. And if that’s not bad enough, then all of Neil Young’s fans can be rightfully appalled when they hear the version of “Heart of Gold” included here. It sounds like Kate Bush got a hold of it during her The Dreaming phase and obliterated it with those vacuum cleaner-like vocals she used to be so fond of. Ah, Tori. What will you destroy next?
How about Tom Waits’ “Time” or the Beatles’ “Happiness Is a Warm Gun?” Say it ain’t so! Oh, but it is, it is. Sadly so. The fans will more than likely enjoy picking apart these selections and try to find some deeper meaning hidden in the recurring images of guns and violence, but at the end of it all, Strange Little Girls isn’t even worthy of being sold next to karaoke discs (or a download off the internet, for that matter). By the time she gets around to Slayer’s “Raining Blood” and Joe Jackson’s “Real Men”, you just want to chuck the disc far, far away.
As a concept album, Strange Little Girls fails. But then again, most concept albums are guilty of that. As a collection of cover tunes, it infuriates and nauseates. I’m sure some of the ones who enjoy this album will delight in knowing that, but all I can say is you’re more than welcome to this one. I make no apologies for not liking this album. Apparently, a lot of long time fans feel the same way. And really, that’s saying a lot. A Tori Amos album that even some of the most devoted fans seem to be passing on. Ah well, if nothing else it’ll score Amos a little pocket change. You gotta love product.