By: Elizabeth Hannon ’12
After a three year break, Ani DiFranco returns to the independent music scene with her latest album Which Side are You On? Critics have hailed the singer/songwriter’s latest work as a welcome return to the singer’s roots, after previous releases during the 2000s were met with mixed reviews that labeled some songs as ‘overworked and overthought’. But is this new release worthy of praise?
Although DiFranco has passed the age 40 mark, her voice is still as clear and as dulcet as in her first albums although perhaps more mature—like Zooey Deschanel with twenty years of experience. The political messages are still present in DiFranco’s lyrics, but are less like a 2×4 to the face than in previous releases (although “Amendment” is a notable exception to this rule). DiFranco herself even admits to this mellowing in the track “Unworry”: “You know I half enjoy my life/It’s been exciting/And I’ve become more peaceful/No more fighting/You know I ain’t gonna waste your time.” However, she hasn’t stopped broadcasting messages about the government: one upbeat and catchy song, “J” contains lines like “And you’d have thought we’d have come more far somehow/Since the changing of the guard and all/I mean dude could be FDR right now/And instead he’s just shifting his weight”—a clear criticism of the Obama administration. Of course, DiFranco’s condemnations don’t end there, as she demands economic, environmental, and social change in almost every track on the album.
The opening track “Life Boat” proves to be a winner, with a catchy chorus and upbeat melody. The title song from the album, a Pete Seeger cover, is also one of the high notes among the tracks. Featuring Seeger himself singing backup vocals and playing banjo, the song is a blend of both the original and DiFranco’s own style, as the songstress adds her own lyrics that are fresh and fun to sing along to.
However, I was most impressed by “Zoo,” which I originally had a hard time categorizing until I realized that I was reminded of Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt”—both songs heartbreakingly melancholy and quietly bleak. The casual sleepiness of the guitar heightens the sense of resignment but keeps the tone casual enough to avoid a slide into melodrama. “Promiscuity” takes a turn in the opposite direction, with a more jazzy beat which is even occasionally reminiscent of Latin guitar.
There are a few missed beats in Which Side are You On? “Albacore” overall tune is needlessly repetitive, and even the intelligent, poetic lyrics can’t save the song from mediocrity. “Amendment” tries to be edgier than the rest of the tracks but winds up trying too hard, as DiFranco’s voice rasps over uninspired lyrics on women’s rights and ends up falling flat.
While I haven’t listened to each of DiFranco’s 15 previous albums, I have heard enough of her work to determine that this is certainly an improvement from the last album, and possibly her best release in years. In conclusion, Which Side are You On? is not the most compositionally innovative album of the new year, but it does fulfill its purpose to its utmost ability—of being easy but intelligent listening for a warm summer’s day. For more information on the singer, visit her label’s website at righteousbabe.com or check out her album on Amazon.com.
Score: 4/5 Croissants
Contact Elizabeth Hannon at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments.