Alternative Rock, 2001
How typical of Tori Amos to create an album full of songs originally sung by men and make them her own. Unfortunately, Strange Little Girls – a play of The Stranglers’s Strange Little Girl, which she covered with much rocky gusto here – is uneven.
Fans of the stripped back piano-and-minimum-instrumental Tori Amos will rejoice here, as most tracks have only a piano and maybe one or two accompanying instruments on the backing track. Me, well, I’m quite torn.
See, I love the Piano Girl when she is angry and on the warpath against religion, men, and the crosses she has to bear as a woman. Then, her anger just pours forth in brilliant tracks like Silent All These Years and Icicle, made even more effective when there is minimum distraction from the backing track. The Piano Girl’s weapon is her words as well as her music. Then comes the more mellow Tori Amos after Boys for Pele. She got married, she seems happy, and now all that’s left is a slurred delivery of words and vague lyrics that don’t make much sense anymore. Still, she can still make some fine music, it’s just that the anger isn’t the same anymore. It’s changed.
And on Strange Little Girls, I realize I’ve changed too. I just don’t find the Piano Girl without her old anger interesting anymore. I like the New, Mellowed Tori Amos when she’s playing to a band. Mellow Piano Girl Tori Amos is – dare I say it? – boring.
Hence, my favorite tracks here are those played in a straight rock and roll style to a full band: her cover of Lloyd Cole and the Commissions’s Rattlesnake is just superb, although I’m not sure if it’s because it’s a great song in the first place or because of her. Likewise, Strange Little Girl and Neil Young’s Heart of Gold (given the banshee rock flavor here – yeah, baby!) are amazing, head-banging style. The only Piano Girl song I can listen more than once is Joe Jackson’s Real Men, maybe because it’s telling pretty much most of my life story. In a way, I’m glad she can still pack a song or two that I can identify with and say, “Hey, that’s so me!”
I don’t really love her take on Eminem’s ’97 Bonnie and Clyde and The Boomtown Rats’ I Don’t Like Mondays. Both are songs filled with morbid violence and black comedy, where violence is targeted at women. Yet, Tori Amos’s take is a stripped back version that drives home the misanthropy in these songs. Her direct approach may work for those who want to have these songs banned from the airwaves forever and need a scapegoat, but I find myself preferring the irreverent, dark and morbid take of the original singers better. In a way, I find Eminem’s and The Boomtown Rats’ versions more Tori Amos-esque than Tori Amos’s cover versions, if you know what I mean.
At the end of the time, sure, I kind of like this album. However, I find myself setting the player to search for and skip to Rattlesnake instead of replaying the entire album.