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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ani DiFranco: Imperfectly


1) What If No One's Watching; 2) Fixing Her Hair; 3) In Or Out; 4) Every State Line; 5) Circle Of Light; 6) If It Isn't Her; 7) Good, Bad, Ugly; 8) I'm No Heroine; 9) Coming Up; 10) Make Them Apologize; 11) The Waiting Song; 12) Served Faithfully; 13) Imperfectly.

Well, she's done it this time. Third time around, here is an album that is completely and absolute­ly impossible to discuss in terms of any other subjects but lyrics. Technically, the sound is a little fuller here, due to the addition of occasional bass and percussion ('Make Them Apologize'), occasional mandolin ('Fixing Her Hair'), occasional backing harmonies, even mock-operatic ones ('I'm No Heroine'), and even occasional jazz trombone ('Circle Of Light'), but the extra touches never ever take the central attention from her vocals and acoustic guitar anyway, so no reason to think of them as indicative of some major style shift.

Meanwhile, the melodies, once again, do not stand up to the freshness and innovative punch of the self-titled debut: the formula gets old pretty fast. And so, all that's left is just stand there and think — do these songs reflect creative and intellectual growth, or do they simply reflect the ideo­logy of «don't-stop-'til-you-drop»? Do they continue to teach us new brands of ethical considera­tions or is it merely the same old song and dance? Is this woman a constantly expanding genius or just a predictable feminist hack?

Frankly, I don't have the time or desire to find it out with this kind of material. I have tried one possible shortcut — make an attempt at locating the album's centerpiece and try to inject it seve­ral times in a row. That centerpiece, supposedly located in the center (where else?), to me, seems to be 'I'm No Heroine', where the lady makes a hardly predictable twist by trying to make us be­lieve she is not really as tough as we want to imagine her: "You think I'm usually wearing the pants just 'cause I rarely wear a dress... you think I stand so firm, you think I sit so high on my trusty steed, let me tell you — I'm usually face down on the ground when there's a stampede; I'm no heroine, at least, not last time I checked, I'm too easy to roll over, I'm too easy to wreck..."

Nice try, Ms. DiFranco, but no dice. If you are no heroine indeed, show us, for once, your truly vulne­rable side. Or, actually, «for once» would be no good, because everyone can fake somebody else pretty successfully at least once in their life; preferably, I'd like to have both sides of the sto­ry living side by side on each record. But if you really are "too easy to wreck", how come for the rest of the album you are mostly singing about how you and your sisters should get on with your anti-male crusades ('Make Them Apologize'), or how the system only cares about your ass ('The Waiting Song'), or about girl-girl and girl-boy relations in which you never, ever back down (al­most everything else)?

It is this weird, disconcerting paradox — 'I'm heroically fighting to defend my right to be no hero' — so typical of so many liberal artistic statements, that is initially frustrating, later annoying, and, in the end, merely curious as a culturally dependent psychological trend, but not really translating so much to great art as it is to post-Freudian study material. These are intelligent lyrics, sung in a refined and, for what it's worth, perfectly sincere manner, but she is an unconscious slave of a particular paradigm, an agenda that is no less limiting than «sex and drugs and rock'n'roll». What else can I say about a record the most memorable thing about which is supposed to be the lethal voltage of a "fuck you very much" sung acappella ('Every State Line')? Just count me shocked to death, then, and unable to twirl my thumbs in any direction. (Although, for the record, I never ever put the question "baby, do you like to fool around" to anyone; and if neither have you, Mr. Average Male Reader, you will, most likely, be a piss-poor conductor for this kind of electricity).

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