Amos covers hit, Live originals miss

After stepping out of the industry following the birth of her daughter, Natashya, an album of cover songs might seem like a cop-out. But the depth that Tori Amos gives to these mostly unknown songs by artists as varied as The Velvet Underground and Slayer shows just how completely devoted Amos is to her craft.

The premise of Strange Little Girl (Atlantic) lies in taking 12 songs, originally written by men and told from a male perspective, and retelling them from the point of view of women. Amos undertook a system of singing similar to method acting – taking on a different role as she sang each track and relied mostly on her first takes.

“’97 Bonnie and Clyde,” originally penned by Eminem, stands out as the most chilling example of the album’s process. The song is a simple, direct monologue by a father to his baby daughter as he tries to justify the murder of the young girl’s mother. Amos works from the view of the dead woman, speaking each line with a soft, rough timbre that exposes the full depravity of Eminem’s lyrics.

Heavy, well-paced songs such as Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” and Slayer’s “Raining Blood” carry similar weight. Although these and other tracks showcase her prowess as a soloist accompanying herself on piano, her work with a band holds a powerful drive, especially on the current single “Strange Little Girls” and Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.” The Beatles’ “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” the album’s lowest point, is weakened most by trite samples of news reports of John Lennon’s murder and excerpts from anti-gun control speeches.

Amos’ take on each cover pushes beyond the usual concepts of homage or simple remake of a popular song. Her personality – or that of the character chosen to “sing” each work – overwhelms the original artists’ intents. No matter who wrote the songs, each one has been taken in and made into something entirely owned by Amos.

-Peter Joseph

Live’s much-anticipated new album, V (UNI/Radioactive), deprives eager fans of the band’s classic rock style. The album moves away from the days of Throwing Copper and reveals the group as a band that has sold out to today’s overproduced music market.

Live falls into the depths of a rock band that has gone past maturity in feebleness, unable to wield their musical skill. They have turned to the controlling producers of today to market and mold them to fit pre-fab radio. The songs are crammed with heavy metal riffs, laced with techno beats. Lead singer Ed Kowalczyck’s lyrics, the infrastructure of earlier Live albums, are dull and lack feeling.

The placement of tracks is choppy and uneven. Moving from techno thumps to acoustic chords to deafening guitar licks. The sound is radically different, and bent into something that Live was once not.

Kowalczyk’s shrill vocals are broken and deafening. The new single, “Simple Creed,” starts with some boisterous guitar notes, and soon Kowalczyk adds on his forced-cheerful vocals. Unexpectedly, the CD carries a piano tune, a saving grace that most listeners will overlook.

V disregards the alternative roots Live once thrived upon. It comes as a shock to rock enthusiasts because it tests Live’s musical ability. Live followed along the well-worn path of bands such as U2 and Sting. For those looking forward to reliving the days of Live’s Throwing Copper, expect to look elsewhere.

-Dave Waldman

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