ANI DIFRANCO: NOT A PRETTY GIRL (1995)
1) Worthy; 2) Tip Toe; 3) Cradle And All; 4) Shy; 5) Sorry I Am; 6) Light Of Some Kind; 7) Not A Pretty Girl; 8) The Million You Never Made; 8) Hour Follows Hour; 9) 32 Flavors; 10) Asking Too Much; 11) This Bouquet; 12) Crime For Crime; 13) Coming Up.
Let us remark, in passing, that Not A Pretty Girl was DiFranco's sixth album in six years. Those were not the 1960s, and extremely few artists would dare to keep their productivity at such a level and for a good reason: fresh musical ideas were much harder to come by. No better proof for this than a cursory look at Ani's conveyor belt: one or two significantly attractive songs per album, surrounded by a sea of regurgitated ideas whose only strong point is the spiritual voltage with which they are delivered. Is that a real bonus, though? A chunk of snot launched from one's nosdril with bullet speed hardly paints a more exciting picture than the same chunk stuck to your coat sleeve. (A brutal metaphor, I admit, but well in touch with Ani's own lyrical style. Read 'Tip Toe' and your breakfast will make its reappearance much faster).
This time, she is back to the minimalistic idiom again: herself, her acoustic, and a lonesome Andy Stochansky on percussion (sometimes). It is not as bad as it sounds; at least, this way our chances of hearing her inimitable playing style are realized far more frequently — except that, of course, by 1995 her inimitable playing style was as much yesterday's news as her image. But approach Not A Pretty Girl from a newcomer's point of view and you will find as much joy in it as the weathered follower used to find in Ani DiFranco.
It is extremely easy to miss an important turn here, though: the album is genuinely less geared towards her usual agenda than its title would suggest. In fact, to provide a good impression, it only really needs to discard two obligatorily ugly pieces of shit stuck in the middle of the record — the title track, a collection of bland banalities for the braindead segment of the feminist crowd ("I am a patriot, I have been fighting the good fight" and all that crap), and the immediately following 'The Million You Never Made', another empty rant at the ghosts of the record industry ("I wouldn't work for you no matter what you paid, but I could be the million that you never made" — gee, no wonder the big bosses at UMG and EMI have been losing so much sleep these last fifteen years. What's illegal downloading next to the total catastrophe of being unable to sign up Ani DiFranco?).
But on most of the other songs she seems to intentionally step away from her preferred subjects — "I am a strong (shit fuck piss) sexless citizen of the world" and "I am an emotionally imbalanced (cunt dick tits) human who needs as much love, care, and respect as any strong (shit fuck piss) sexless citizen of the world" — and broaden the range by singing about... well, by simply floating on the wind and let her own brand of impressionism carry her away. Some of the lyrics might even need decoding, and some may not mean much, or anything, at all; for Ani, this is as huge a level of progress as she could ever aspire to.
On 'Sorry I Am', she simply sings a moderately pretty song of apology to a deserted lover. Yes, we can finish the picture in our minds and understand that this is the kind of song that a man usually addresses to a woman ("I guess I never loved you quite as well as the way you loved me"), so, in reversing the roles, DiFranco still creates a vehicle for her social ideology, but the big difference is, she does not say this — you can imply it, but the song itself is no more a boring representative of «acute feminist position» than, say, 'Go Your Own Way' is a philosophical justification of shameless male chauvinism. It is just a pretty sad confessional lost love song, albeit not a very good one (not a surprise, because there are no very good ones altogether).
'Cradle And All' is the most uppity creation on here, fast and bouncy in a free-ride, freedom-obsessed Greenwich Village way, using the bleak old lullaby as a setup for telling tales of swinging from one place and relation to another with no backthoughts. The point, if there is one, is once again implied rather than spelt out letter by letter. The technically demanding 'Light Of Some Kind', with its dry, choking guitar scrape seems to be Ani making some sort of excuse to her boyfriend for not hiding her bisexuality — well, at least she openly admits that some things make some people uncomfortable, which is refreshing.
Overall, Not A Pretty Girl just makes a damn good job at presenting the lady's human side — not a perfect job, because a perfect job would require at least a lobotomy, but sufficient to make one relax and listen to this as a piece of music rather than sit at one's desk with a textbook on third-wave feminism and seek out all the links and paraphrases. My only problem with the album is that she must have thought up all the melodies the day before walking into the studio. So, it is thought-provoking music rather than just thought-provoking, but most of the provoked thoughts were awful anyway. Thumbs down.