The liner notes to Strange Little Girls contain 13 pictures, each representing a character from one of the songs on the album (with “Heart of Gold”s delegates being a set of twins). It is from this perspective that i am attacking the album… not as a concept work, or a cohesive disc, but as 12 “girls” linked together in their separation from their original creators and in that Tori has chosen to harbor them as her own for the time being. Each is its own soundscape and commentary apart from the others, and dissecting every one is almost the only way to be able to connect any of them at all. Each of the preceding reviews was written in the length of the song they describe, and edited upon a repetition. Mouseover the pictures to view their caption, and click for some possible extra commentary.
Archives for September 18, 2001
01. Tori Amos albums always start with something indicative, even if you least suspect that it truly is. The reverberating wurlitzer starts Strange Little Girls in a cloud of forlorn restlessness, but the first chorus of “New Age” tells us what this album is really about… pairing those glowing chords with quick stabs at an electric guitar that sound displaced by three decades or more. After coming out of this first harrowing experience of Tori’s new sound… sans piano, sans Caton, electrictrified and sleepy but so very vital, the tiny muted drum thump that follows is just carrying us forward to the next phrase. This all builds as Tori intones “I’ll come running to you if you want me” and the guitar begins squawking and barking as if the notes are squelching out of the sides of the neck rather than the pickup.
Suddenly, this unassuming song is proclaiming “the beginning of a new age” and Tori is riding the top of the wave, her voice rising to dominate the entire arrangement and carry it with her. And we are off.
02. It is not Eminem talking to us as the beginning of “’97 Bonnie and Clyde,” but Tori speaking on the behalf of the woman so startlingly trapped behind this harrowing narrative that boys all around the country are prone to chant to. Tori here enlists an outside arranger to compose primary instrumentation for the first time ever, and the result is a strange Bates’ Hotel swirl of strings that ties itself up in one Psycho stab at the end. Tori trips through the internal rhymes of the song hardly paying heed to the other elements, at once the voice of the apologetic mother and the sinister but possesively loving father. “Don’t play with dada’s toy knife honey, let go of it” is said in that off-handed motherly way that betrays the cold hard killer who originally narrated the song, and makes you wonder about who’s really speaking to us in this version. The ghost of this mother is creeping around in the cracks, peeking from behind the horror-music veneer of the song in Tori’s soprano “just the two of us” (that sounds too much like “choose the two of us,” which has even darker implications considering the baby brother that the narrator brings into the picture) but then retreating as the sinister whisper takes over again.
Who is in charge of this car ride, this death march complete with a martial drum beat? Mama is speaking with daddy’s voice but in soft tones that no one could ever imagine coming from his mouth. And, whoever is speaking, they implicate the poor little girl that is along for the ride as Bonnie to Dada’s Clyde. What does this imply? The vision of the real life fugitive pair comes to mind, shot full of holes and draped over the interior of a car while their death was cheered.
Eminem is making money off of songs about killing his wife with his daughter as an unknowing accomplice, but Tori turns them around to put blood on both of their hands. Children bear the sins of their fathers, after all.
03. “Strange Little Girl” sung by a man would be condescending… a song about little blue girls who have to escape the worlds that enclose them would seem to inherently imply that only such a strange wispy little creature could ever be susceptible to such a fate. Tori introduces something else into the mix… a kindred spirit who knows from experience what the act of running away feels like. Suddenly, this has become more familiar territory for us fans. A strange little girl is not a fragile creature of blown glass, but a spirit on the loose looking for something that can contain her. You feel her tear into you as Belew’s guitars slash past Tori’s wurley to assault your ears like the winds that she is wrapped up tightly against. This girl is not so fragile after all.
The song itself says the same thing about the album as it says about its character… something that seemed so tiny and careful at first surges up the same way Tori’s voice leads the way in “New Age.” It recenters your listening … it is telling you not to let the quiet deliveries and fragile vocals obscure the steely nerves and sinews beneath this record.
04. “Enjoy the Silence” is a song that is immediately recognizable as a swirling eighties trance, and here Tori has stripped it bare – all the way down to the most martial of bass progressions and flowing lines of melody inbetween; the only graces that are left to it are some synth strings and a higher Tori singing wispy harmony. I don’t think i’ve ever thought of this song as one written to a woman so much as it is obviously about a relationship, but here Tori turns the tone into almost a threat that “words are very unnecessary” even though they are supposed to be the things doing the harm. The whole world is wrapped up in the world between her arms, and you have to wonder if each world Tori mentions in song is its very own universe or if they all somehow overlap… both “Upside Down”s little blue world and “Black Dove”s grey winter galaxy, but the wrong-fitting world of the previous track as well. Maybe words are meaningless because Tori keeps defining these tiny imperfections of fit with them when they are meant to be left untouched, and the truth is that a world is all that you can hold onto with your own arms… all you ever wanted and needed.
The strip search of this song seems to be a violation at first, but we are a culture obsessed with accessories. Try to just grasp the beauty of the naked human form.
05. Tiny electronic drum taps are backed up with a cymbal sounding so warm that i imagine it heated and sizzling to create the tiny static that follows. Some inverse version of the loop from Fiona’s “Sleep To Dream” plays itself out here, daring you to dream if you want any rest at all. And, just as you are lulled into a false sense of security in rhythm and in the simplicity of this song you are surrounded by this inescapable melody carrying itself through the sizzling and sinister noises of the backdrop it is set against.
The sonic landscape is polar and unforgiving, and she has no intentions of falling in love again; in the past the lyrics to this sounded like the kind of lie a man tells because he can. Suddenly, you can feel the utter barren waste of an empty heart and you know all at once that he is not lying when he says “I’m Not In Love” and that she does not care. The song is just the empty space between them, or maybe the picture that is hiding “the nasty stain still hiding there” : the blood red of a tiny patch of heart that is left. The lyrics repeat endlessly and hearts skip beats just like records… Tori lets out all of her breath at the end and we are left in the chilling landscape again, with only the slow warm drench of the cymbal to root us back to anything physical. And then the record stops.