Tori Amos

Record Review

Phases and Stages

Tori Amos

Strange Little Girls (Atlantic)

Leave it to strange little Tori Amos to completely upend the idea of a covers album. When Amos interprets someone else's song, she doesn't simply rehash the music and lyrics; she's invented 13 different personas to serve as narrators -- one for each song, plus twins for Neil Young's "Heart of Gold." As might be expected, she's taken a few liberties with source material, so this ain't exactly John Lennon's Rock and Roll. Then again, buying into her conceits -- a retired showgirl crooning Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence"; the first state trooper on the scene at a school shooting in Bob Geldof's "I Don't Like Mondays" -- is ultimately optional, because by and large, her interpretations stand on their own. All come appropriately laden with Tori-ness, since it's not just anyone who can re-create Slayer's "Raining Blood" as a ponderous minor-key dirge, then turn around and do the same thing for 10cc's "I'm Not in Love." Eminem's "Bonnie and Clyde '97" becomes a tense string quartet-driven monologue; Amos' stiffeningly calm delivery lays bare the horrifying implications obscured by Slim Shady's rapid-fire verbal mayhem. Similarly, layering firearm-related soundbites over the Beatles' "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," beginning with a news report about John Lennon's death, is an all too effective reminder how songs can take on grotesque connotations the composer never envisioned. Not that it's all gloom and doom. The title track is a Wurlitzer-bejeweled treat, the Velvet Underground's "New Age" comes full of blooming hope, and Tom Waits' "Time" is simply gorgeous. Strange Little Girls won't resolve the perpetual nutjob/goddess debate swirling around Amos; there's plenty of evidence on hand for either point of view. More importantly, the LP forces listeners to, in the words of the Joe Jackson-penned closer, seriously examine their ideas of "who the real men are." (Tori Amos' show at Bass Concert Hall Friday, Nov. 2 is SOLD OUT.)

***

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