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Tori Amos' "Strange Little Girls" is a quietly triumphant covers collection that endures 20 years on

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fairly easy
What if some very famous songs by very famous men were instead centered on and about women?
Tori Amos has always been a cover song connoisseur. Early in her career, she drew raves for her careful, piano-driven takes on Nirvana's "Smells like Teen Spirit" and Led Zeppelin's "Thank You." On tours, she's known for covering a wide variety of artists, including George Michael, INXS, Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles, and Kansas.

On September 18, 2001, Amos released her most ambitious covers selections to date: a full-length album, "Strange Little Girls," featuring her takes on songs written by men. More than that, however, the collection offers an intriguing premise:

This premise could easily have become quite gimmicky. However, Amos' empathy for the songwriting subjects makes "Strange Little Girls" a quiet, subtle triumph. That's evident most on a superlative cover of Lloyd Cole & The Commotions' "Rattlesnakes." The song features a main character named Jodie, who "wears a hat although it hasn't rained for six days" and packs a gun "on account of all the rattlesnakes."

Cole is himself an empathetic writer, and so his character sketch of Jodie offers telling details ("her neverborn child still haunts her") that explain her behavior. Ever perceptive, Amos picks up on Jodie's heartbreak; her voice drips with sadness and understanding, ensuring the cover ends up deeply affecting.

Vibe-wise, however, "Strange Little Girls" felt like a continuation of her 1999 double album, "To Venus and Back," which was heavy on atmospheric electronic elements. Her version of the Beatles' "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" offers sampled news snippets and keyboards that resemble experimental electronic compositions, as well as guitarist Adrian Belew adding the occasional jolting riff.

Belew is most effective, however, on Amos' languid cover of the Velvet Underground's "New Age," when his jagged electric bolts emerge as she sings the line, "I'll come running." That nuance crops up all over "Strange Little Girls" offers many moods. "I Don't Like Mondays" is sparse and haunting; 10cc's "I'm…
Annie Zaleski
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