ANI DIFRANCO: TO THE TEETH (1999)
1) To The Teeth; 2) Soft Shoulder; 3) Wish I May; 4) Freakshow; 5) Going Once; 6) Hello Birmingham; 7) Back Back Back; 8) Swing; 9) Carry You Around; 10) Cloud Blood; 11) The Arrivals Gate; 12) Providence; 13) I Know This Bar.
God, this is horrible. One certainly does not expect an intelligent folk-rock masterpiece from an album that is the artist's second-within-the-year to overflow the sixty-minute mark (actually, this one runs over seventy), but a few decent numbers here and there from someone of DiFranco's caliber could still be welcome.
Instead, To The Teeth gives us seventy minutes of plodding, insanely boring, unimaginably underwritten mid-tempo rhythms that sound like they were conceived in a disfocused, debilitated cannabis haze. I would venture a guess that no one but the deepest, dangerous, society-threatening fanatic, whose wildest dream is to open a tattoo parlor next to Ani DiFranco's place of residence, could willingly listen to this more than one time.
For one thing, not a single of these songs should be legally allowed to run more than three minutes, yet many of them cross the six or seven minute mark as if each aspired to be a frickin' 'Desolation Row' or something. In a few cases, this could be understood if she were intent on driving her little backing jazz-funk band into jam mode; but whoever these guys are and whatever their talents may be, they are strictly prohibited from displaying band. It could also be pardoned had she remembered how to play those cool choppy rhythms like she used to when she had no band at all; but there is not a single song all across these seventy minutes on which the guitar playing would rise above rudimentary (at least, by her own standards).
Then there are the politics. She returns to the battleground fully armed — «to the teeth», indeed — and, from the first minutes, engages in a ghost battle with shadows of MTV, NBC, CBS, NRA and tells us to «open fire on each weapon manufacturer while he's giving head to some republican senator». Apparently, the song — and, most likely, the entire album as such — was inspired by the Columbine massacre, but righteous anger is no excuse for writing lame lyrics, setting them to non-existent melodies and letting the blood drip for eight awful minutes. Further down the line, Woody Guthrie and Martin Luther King have guest appearances as well; Angela Davis might have been on the list of invitations, too, but the catch is, she's not dead yet.
Then there are the awful embarrassments. 'Freakshow' sounds one, nay, two hundred percent like an Alanis Morissette outtake from the Little Pill era; Ani goes as far as to modulate her singing according to the Morisette pattern — what the hell? The main reason we may be interested in her in the first place is that she presents an embraceable alternative to Alanis, and now this? Then there is 'Swing', on which she acknowledges her respect for hip-hop culture by sharing the spotlight with Corey Parker, improvising a little rap about her. The effect will probably seem pitiful even to supporters of the culture, let alone the doomed bigots who prefer real music.
Then there is the overall rating. Need I even spell it out? Even Robert Christgau hated the record, and no other prominent critic raved more about DiFranco than the enigmatic old goat.