ANI DIFRANCO: EVOLVE (2003)
1) Promised Land; 2) In The Way; 3) Icarus; 4) Slide; 5) O My My; 6) Evolve; 7) Shrug; 8) Phase; 9) Here For Now; 10) Second Intermission; 11) Serpentine; 12) Welcome To.
The album won Ani DiFranco a Grammy Award in 2004... for Best Recording Package. Reading this official information on Wikipedia or in any other source after you have heard the album gives a clear impression of bitter irony, if not indirect insult. First, it is hard to imagine somebody as righteous as Ani to care one second about the Grammy people in the first place. Second, it is even harder to imagine the Grammy people actually taking the time to listen to an Ani DiFranco album. Third, in spite of both the first and the second, this Grammy decision summarizes my feelings about Evolve to near-perfection.
Since it can be easily shown that Ms. DiFranco knows how to create interesting melodies, the obvious reasoning is that, by the time Reckoning and Revelling came along, she had developed the notion that «interesting melodies» are an insult to honest artistry and intellectual audiences. Thus, her newly-established motto can be briefly summarized as «Hooks are for NRA members». In the place of hooks, we proceed to get Messages and Free Jazz, DiFranco-style.
Granted, after the «time-suspended» illusion of Revelling, Evolve has more rhythm to it, and some of the ideas are moderately interesting. 'In The Way', in particular, gets a quirky little funky riff with hypnotizing potential not unlike the one exploited to the max by James Brown on 'Sex Machine' — except that, of course, Ani is no James Brown, and even when she tries to get into overdrive, she cannot sustain the tension for five minutes, meaning that the riff is essentially wasted. Another classy, sardonic riff, acoustic this time, is lost on the title track, which has nothing else to go for it.
The whole thing just screams out «lazy, lazy, lazy...» louder than almost any other DiFranco album up to that point. The only song on the entire album that is anywhere close to «completeness» is 'Here For Now', which takes half a minute to find its groove, introduces said groove as a quiet little Latin dance number, variegates it with a quiet, arythmic chorus, and locks the door behind it in an economic three minutes time — whereas most of the raw, blurry, impressionistic numbers overstay their welcome for at least four or five.
The nadir, quite predictably, is 'Serpentine', a ten-minute rant on civil liberties and other related shit that is the younger, but even more obnoxious, brother of 'Self Evident' from the last record. "The difference between you and me, baby, is I get fucked up when I'm alone", she states midway through; yep, she must have been particularly lonesome when recording this album.
One thing that is not quite clear to me is why anyone would really want to bother falling for Ani's amateurish experimentation in the realm of modern jazz. Considering just how many superior jazz musicians, ancient and modern, there are in each and every aspect of the genre, Evolve could only hope to work if she'd found a decent way of integrating the new influences into her old style, for instance, start playing the guitar the way she did on her first album, while all the brass players and percussionists around her supplied the external arrangements. Instead, she somehow convinced herself that once you set up some thin, bland, unevocative groove, all you have left to do is support it with another meandering poem sung from the bottom of the heart.
Not recommended for anyone except the staunchest Ani adepts, with the possible exception of 'Here For Now'; in fact, a track like 'Serpentine', unless you happen to be an innate serial killer mascherading as a braindead ultra-liberal activist, can turn sane people off the dame forever. To be honest, there is quite a bit of decent poetry on here, too ('Icarus', 'Second Intermission') — my wild guess is that she only writes stuff like 'Serpentine' and 'Self Evident' when she's having her period or something. Thumbs down, all the same; good poetry is Pulitzer Prize stuff — without a half-decent melody to accompany it, all you can hope for is a Grammy Award for Best Recording Package.