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The Record (US)
New Jersey newspaper
Friday, October 5, 2001

Her stamp on men's words

Tori Amos's new views

by Ed Condran

Gender has always been a major issue for Tori Amos. "Boys for Pele," "From the Choirgirl Hotel," and "To Venus and Back" are some of the singer-songwriter's album titles. Amos, who seduces audiences by wriggling on her piano bench while belting out confessional ballads, calls her songs "girls."

However, after giving birth to a daughter a year ago, Amos decided to record a collection of songs about women penned by males. The disc, "Strange Little Girls," is composed of tracks crafted by some of the most prominent songwriters in the industry. Amos, who has earned acclaim for penning such personal tracks as "Silent All These Years" and "God" during the early Nineties, takes on Neil Young's "Heart of Gold," Eminem's "97' Bonnie & Clyde," and the Velvet Underground's "New Age," which was written by Lou Reed.

"Men are the mothers on this one," Amos said in a call from Tampa, Fla. "They gave birth to these songs. I've connected with the strange little girl in each song. Each girl has said to me that they have a point of view on each song, and I'm just the conduit. The male seed has been planted in the female throat."

The songs were completely vamped, which shouldn't come as a surprise to Amos fans. The pop star, with legions of zealous followers, grabbed listeners' ears with a taut and compelling deconstruction of Nirvana's 10-year-old classic "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in 1992.

Amos strips each "Strange Little Girl" cover to its core and proceeds to Tori-ize the tunes. The most effective of the piano-driven tunes is a gorgeous version of Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence." The keys Amos plays evoke beauty and sadness. Amos transformed the former club hit into a stark, serious track, which begs to be played ad nauseam.

Other highlights include a lush and trippy version of the Beatles' "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," which is full of apt samples. The title track, which was written by the underheralded Stranglers, features a terrific keyboard line and is the catchiest number on the disc.

Such issues as violence and identity connect the songs, which Amos plans to sing Tuesday through Thursday at the Beacon Theatre in Manhattan. Amos, who has been a prominent pop figure for a decade, is performing behind a keyboard sans band for the first time in seven years.

Amos was promoting her album in Manhattan when the World Trade Center was leveled Sept. 11. "I was about to do a television appearance," Amos recalled. "I was getting ready when my tour manager came in and flicked on the television and we watched the tragedy, transfixed just like everybody else."

While walking the streets of New York that evening, Amos left behind fictional protagonists from "Strange Little Girls" and focused on the strong, resolute, and very real heroines of Manhattan.

"That night left indelible images in my brain," Amos said. "The women were like these warrior mothers. They weren't talking about vengeance. The look in their eyes was very clear. They will not tolerate their children being harmed. The Eastern man unfortunately does not understand the Western woman. They see us as Playboy bunnies or sex objects. They don't see the warrior mothers. When you strike a woman, you strike rock. What I saw that night, the compassion, the power, and love, is something I'll never forget."

Amos says she believes such conflicts would be unlikely if the right shoe were on the other gender's foot.

"The world would be different if guys could carry a life inside of them," she said. "If they were a house on heels and could feel all that fragility, it would be a totally different world."

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