Strange Little Girls is a haunting creation that sets the stage for Tori Amos’s latest social agenda.
The album, a compilation of songs by male composers, attempts to shed new light on old standards. Amos aims to diminish themes that permeate songs including chauvanism, blind aggression and a general disregard for the female perspective.
This is not the first time Amos has tried her hand at covering other people’s tunes. Her version of Nirvana’s swan song, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” though stylistically a far cry from Kurt Cobain’s raging wails manages to retain the raw anguished depth of the original.
Most of the tracks are straightforward renditions, thick with Amos’ alternately harsh, angelic voice rising and faltering to the sound of a grand piano. However, this disc also reflects her intention of representing the female perspective, a feat she accomplishes by altering previous structure.
For example, on Eminem’s “Bonnie and Clyde ’97,” words are completely altered in order to establish a different resolution. In it, the song’s original victim takes lyrical control. The calm manner in which she details her impending fate is heartbreaking and unsettling.
Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” is the most sonically aggressive track, with heavy guitar hooks bleeding though a synthesized distortion. The words are the same, but the effect is much more disorienting than the original.
Similarly, on “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” Amos takes a Beatles’ classic and alters it by including clipped news bites on gun control as well as flashes of the death of John Lennon. This stark contrast of love and hate is one of Amos more successful attempts at emphasizing society’s increasing disregard for the sanctity of life. Guns also figure prominently in the remake of the 1979 Boomtown Rats’ hit, “I Don’t Like Mondays,” in which a student contemplates a school shooting.
Amos’ bare bones approach may not appeal to everyone. Although songs such as “Time” and “New Age” are perfectly suited for the echoes of sporadic key strokes, many listeners may object to the overly dramatic treatment some of their favorites are subject to receive. Depeche Mode fans, for instance, may not “Enjoy the Silence” without its usual drum machine beats.
In terms of creating a concept album, this highly experimental endeavor is a striking success. And while she may stray from convention, Amos’s unique voice continues to ring true.
Fans will likely make this a welcome addition to their collections, as will those to whom reinterpretation appeals.
Still, her less than subtle approach may come off as borderline sacrilege for classic rock and pop music purists who never before looked at these songs in such a harsh, unforgiving light. Ultimately though, this kind of bitter reaction is exactly what Amos wants her work to produce. For unsavory words in our ears are often just what we need to open our eyes.