I do love me some Tori Amos. Her voice is such an instant trip to a time and place. I fell in love with her voice and her intimate performance style right back in the days of Little Earthquakes and Above The Pink. I recall going to see her perform live in that era and it being possibly the first time I’d bought tickets to see a performer who wasn’t in a guitar band. Tori’s music soundtracked whole relationships, houses and places of my early 20’s. At no point between Crucify and Professional Widow (or even the Remix) did I envision her covering The Stranglers. And yet. Here we are.
2001. I’m living a different life entirely to the one in which Tori Amos played in my vicinity most days. I checked out some time around The Choirgirl Hotel. I’d left her down on the coast and moved inland to the City. Talk of a clever concept album piqued my interest again. The idea of taking songs with specifically male perspectives and switching the roles around so a female singer could highlight the reversal sounded interesting. When I looked at the songs she’d be covering I could see the obvious huge contrasts in some. Covering Eminem’s ’97 Bonnie And Clyde was a clear marker for the ambition of the project. She was also going to cover Slayer’s Raining Blood, Boomtown Rats I Don’t Like Mondays and The Beatles Happiness Is A Warm Gun. This was fascinating.
The album is a brilliant exploration of very diverse songs on very diverse themes. Ultimately though, they’re almost all a skewering of macho dick obsession and a subversion of not just the lyrics but the intent and the sound associated with the song.
Raining Blood is not done as a metal tune. She does not rap 97 Bonnie And Clyde. Rather than that, using her voice and piano while creating different characters to reframe the songs Tori becomes a folk singer telling stories around a campfire like they are Grimm fairy tales. Funny that Neil Gaiman should be associated with the project then. He wrote some passages of text that accompany the record inside it’s sleeve and flesh out the theater aspects. The full text was later published in a bind up of Gaiman’s short stories entitled Fragile Things. Gaiman had collaborated a decade earlier with Alice Cooper on the comic/album hybrid The Last Temptation. Cooper’s Only Women Bleed featured here as a B-Side to Tori’s treatment of The Stranglers hit Strange Little Girl when it was released as a single. Bowie’s After All made up the 3 track 12″ and CD single.
Also on the album were versions of songs by The Velvet Underground, Tom Waits, 10cc, Neil Young and Depeche Mode to name just a few more. The album could be bought with 4 sleeve variants. Tori dressed up as some of the Characters performing the songs for different takes on how the world should see these Strange Little Girls. Like Panini World Cup stickers or baseball trading cards there must have been fans out there who bought 4 copies of the same album (Gotta catch ‘em all!)
Thematically Strange Little Girl had some similarities to Duchess. A girl who doesn’t fit in where she’s from, so she looks to the horizon for another life. In the lyrics this time she runs away to the Country Fair. There is (unsurprisingly) no happy ending in the lyric. She wanders (or does she?) she’s questioned repeatedly about her motives. The song and the world are cold to our Strange Little Girl in both versions. Something happened on that trip to the fair that is never mentioned. We only know this because we are told she survived. Despite the cold world and her race home.
Both acts make a beautiful and delicate take on the same song. From the original band it has overtones of the sinister ‘big bad world’ waiting out there to take your innocence. From Tori’s version it seems more wistful, perhaps more empowering. That can be no bad thing. Neither version of the song makes for an obvious choice for a hit single. If you’re a punk rock band with Goth overtones or a 90’s alternative pop star. It’s still a curve ball. I’ve got a lot of time and a lot of love for them both. This song seems to possess some rare magic.