ANI DIFRANCO: DILATE (1996)
1) Untouchable Face; 2) Outta Me Onto You; 3) Superhero; 4) Dilate; 5) Amazing Grace; 6) Napoleon; 7) Shameless; 8) Done Wrong; 9) Going Down; 10) Adam And Eve; 11) Joyful Girl.
Dilate put Ani on the mainstream charts, the low-to-mid ranges of which she has never left since, but just how much of her own merit went into this is debatable; the main reason for this increased popularity is, I believe, that she simply fell in with the wave of interest towards the «Angry Young Female Singer-Songwriter» crowds popularized by Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill just a few months before Dilate hit the stores. In fact, quite a few people have gone on record comparing Ani's confessional blurts on here with Alanis' style — "isn't it ironic" (to quote Alanis herself), considering that DiFranco had been doing that schtick for half a decade already?
It helps that Dilate, again, returns to a fuller sound, with Ani herself handling electric guitar duties, and also adding bass, synthesizers, and organs where she sees fit. This makes her 'Napoleon' sound a little bit Neil Young-ish (the dry guitar crackle is not unlike the one that sets up the mood for 'Down By The River'), and her 'Going Down' a little bit psychedelic — the lyrics may suggest that it is merely a song about being dumped by yet another male chauvinist pig, but the carefully measured effects do really create an aura of slowly descending into a bottomless shaft, and the more you listen to it, the more you are prone to creeping yourself out.
So, either it is the reentrance of variegated arrangements, or there are some real improvements on the melody side (with Ani, it is always hard to tell), but, in my view, Dilate brings back some confidence in her use as an artist, much as this view is opposite to those that think DiFranco is always at her best when it's just her, her guitar, and the latest version of her agenda. Her interpretation of 'Amazing Grace', contrasting the actual singing with somebody reciting the verses in a dull, disinterested manner over the phone, is fresh and thought-provoking, despite being horrendously drawn out (not even the President of the United States could stand seven minutes of it, let alone the mere mortals). Her singing on 'Done Wrong' nears beautiful. And her trademark "fuck you" on 'Untouchable Face' must have taken quite a bit of polishing during rehearsals — it perfectly captures the presupposition of «I used to be patient with you, but even the strongest kind of patience has its limits, so I have no choice but to take a shortcut here» that one witnesses quite often in movies, but, for some strange reason, almost never in music.
To make things even brighter, Dilate heavily cuts down both on anthemic statements and shocking verbal imagery — certainly not because she is selling out to the Alanis Morissette crowd (for that matter, Jagged Little Pill was all about anthemic statements and ugly impressions), but because she is... growing up? Note that, with the understandable exception of 'Amazing Grace', each song on the album has a «YOU», and that «YOU» is mostly in the singular; as much as I feel uncomfortable about spying on other people's relationships, I'd rather prefer to be let in on these secrets of the soul than listen to yet another not-a-pretty-girl kind of rallying. Besides, these responseless dialogs become less and less annoying with each new album — and the lyrics for something like 'Adam And Eve' are downright complex and open for quite a variety of interpretations, e. g. such lines as "I just happen to like apples / And I am not afraid of snakes" put a new twist on the Genesis morals that is well worth considering.
As per custom, from about one third to one half of the album is fillerish, but if we «stoop to her level», like the anti-hero of 'Adam And Eve', the fresh, interesting part still guarantees a thumbs up. Serious critics may, and will, sneer at the general public that only opened its eyes to DiFranco after having been goaded by the inferior presence of Alanis, but at least Dilate proudly deserves each and every one of its 480,000 sold copies, which I could hardly say about Pill's 33 million.