Cindy Sherman and Tori Amos: Strange Little Girls
Having read Anna’s report from our trip to museum of art Louisiana last week, I thought I’d just do a post of my own, following up on Anna’s observations on Cindy Sherman.
Because seeing the Sherman exhibtion reminded me of the Tori Amos-album Stange Little Girls (2001) which I bought recently and like very much. It occured to me at Louisiana that Tori Amos is obviously very inspired by Sherman in this album, which features 12 cover tracks, covering songs by artists as diverse as Eminem and Lennon/McCartney.
On the album, Amos presents an interesting new take on the concept of musical covering as she uses each track to present a different side of Woman as an expressive individual – and perhaps even different sides of herself as a woman artist. The songs are all centered around women and they are all originally written by male artists, and thus Amos uses the album as a way of exploring different male visions of women, and she does so playfully and freely, as if trying on different outfits in a fitting room. The homage to Cindy Sherman’s work (whose artistic project of portraying women may be said to be similar) is quite evident, as Amos poses on the album booklet in a series of photos that recall Sherman’s staged photography:
From Tori Amos: Strange Little Girls
If the pictures stood by themselves, I would be tempted to dismiss them as sheer Sherman plagiatism, but appearing as they do as part of the album cover art, they merely serve to emphasize Strange Little Girls as Amos’s musical exploration of the artistic project that Sherman started, and I think that’s a very sympathetic idea.
Amos’s talent as a musician is indisputable, I think, and the tracks are all very interesting musically, ranging in genre from quite piano ballads to loud rock songs, much like Sherman’s photography which ranges from the fragmentary contemplative to the grotesque and shrill. My favourite tracks on the album are probably the beautiful, understated cover version of Tom Waits’s “Time”, which gains a whole new perspective with Amos’s delicate vocal replacing Waits’s hoarse one, and the almost deliriously rambling, disharmonic and multivoiced schizophrenic version of Neil Young’s otherwise very by-the-book ballad “Heart of Gold”. And her chillingly laid-back version of “I don’t like Mondays” haunted me for weeks after the Virginia Tech massacre and comes to my mind whenever I see Cho’s angry face on the news, the Elektra-like unquenchable thirst for revenge shining from his eyes.
A minor problem with Amos’s album is, however, that she does not achieve the diversity of expression that Sherman masters. While the genre of her cover tracks ranges, Amos’s women portraying gets a little monotonous, as the majority of the portraits present in some form a deranged and dangerous woman. She no doubt wishes to underline the tendency towards vagina-dentata-ish male fear of women, and while I think this is an important issue within our patriachal society, surely it does not reflect the attitude of the entire male population? Here, I think Sherman’s take on the male optics is more subtle and leaves more room for interpretation.
But the album’s spark and energy and Tori Amos’s fitting-room mentality towards a male-dominated society’s view on femininity, definitely makes Tori Amos’s music recommendable to anyone with an interest in Sherman’s project, and I think it is great, and much too rare, to see contemporary women musicians seriously exploring gender issues within their music. A much-needed break from Gwen Stefani’s scantily clad Hollaback Girls and Shakira’s allegedly truth-speaking hips. I haven’t yet heard Amos’s latest album American Doll Posse (which was released last month), but I understand that Amos continues her theme of women portraits, this time specifically criticising traditinal American sex roles; so it would seem that Sherman is indeed still very much alive and kicking. Good for her. And for all of us.