It’s Reigning Women
There is something ominous in Tori Amos’ rendition of Eminem’s “’97 Bonnie & Clyde.” The background orchestration is reminiscent of a classic Hitchcock driving scene, perhaps an appropriate setting as the soft female voice whispers the aftermath of a mother’s murder. Amos retells the story seemingly from the corpse’s point of view, possibly the only successful cover on the album if her purpose is to shatter the perception of female characters in male-dominated rock and pop songs. This purpose seems lost on most of the songs on Strange Little Girls, Amos’ latest release, though the album is not without its inventiveness and character.Both concept album and cover collection, Strange Little Girls holds an eclectic collection of material. Yet the mood is classic Tori – ethereal vocals that hint at something more meaningful than the lyrics describe, and repetitive minor piano chords joined by highlights of rock guitar performed by contributor Adrian Belew. Belew joins Amos for the first time on her album, adding his sweeping experience in the music industry to her artistic vision. Belew’s credits include Frank Zappa’s Sheik Yerbouti, David Bowie’s Lodger, and Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral. His melodic riffs add a subtle strength to the work, giving it a roundness that Amos sometimes lacks in her solo singer-songwriter-with-piano routine. Matt Chamberlain on drums and Jon Evans on bass and guitar return to work with Amos again as well, completing the circle.
Amos also took on personas within the printed album, posing for numerous costumed photos in an attempt to embody and represent many of the women characterized in the songs. From showgirls to highway policewomen, from mothers to Satan worshippers; Amos either tries to represent or appeal to each demographic, as well as give homage to those personas that are sung about, but never seen.
The album is more of a statement than a showcase of interpretive talent. Unlike Annie Lennox’s solo cover album Medusa, Amos does not bother to show off how she can polish the work of others. Rather she tears some songs apart and totally revamps them, such as “Raining Blood.” Others she cooks up a more feminine version of, as in Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence.” Overall each song has its own mood, and the covers are nothing else if not intriguing. Even almost incomprehensible lyrics are not a problem when the focus is on Amos’ talented vocal range. However, some of the songs are so heavy that the album tends to drag, begging for a dramatic pause every time a line is uttered. It is less organic than Amos’ albums of the past, in both design and sound. Electric instruments and sampling add to her diverse musical repertoire, but also remove an element of naturalism that once existed in her work.
Yet Tori Amos fans will not be disappointed, for as much as Strange Little Girls is an obscure poke at the all but invisible world of male-dominated music, the songs are beautifully mastered and contain that typical Tori flare that we all know and love. Every song is engagingly reinterpreted, giving them that sensitive yet powerful attitude Amos is known for. Whether or not the message she attempts to convey is clear, Strange Little Girls is definitely worthy of any female-empowering collection.