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Ani DiFranco’s ‘Revelling/Reckoning’ a Wreck

Self-Indulgent, Self-Righteous Babe

By Fred Choi


Righteous Babe Records

Retail $17.48

It is rare that the packaging of a CD causes any strong positive or negative reaction. It is noteworthy that Ani DiFranco’s latest release, the two-CD set Revelling/ Reckoning has packaging which is not just bad, but nauseatingly pretentious. Among other things, the artwork consists of an overused double R logo which looks ridiculously amateurish, a photo of DiFranco standing on a rock among a wintry landscape wearing a leopard print coat, and words like “roller coaster” in a modified typeset among the rest of the printed lyrics. One who suspects that DiFranco dots her i’s with hearts and peace signs these days may cynically wonder what happened to the DiFranco of yore who had better things to do with her time than create annoying packaging.

Unfortunately the packaging of Revelling/Reckoning reflects the quality of the new release as well. In To the Teeth, DiFranco’s previous release, the songs were wildly varied, with a decent number of sublime songs and quite a few bad songs. Continuing her downward spiral, there is only a handful of decent songs, an appallingly large number of outright bad songs, and a majority of mediocre ones on the 29 tracks of Revelling/Reckoning.

DiFranco’s new release is divided into two CDs, the first more upbeat one entitled Revelling and the second more sparse and generally slower one entitled, Reckoning. Revelling features DiFranco’s recognizable style of folk rock along with her more recent funk influence. Despite the presence of the legendary Maceo Parker, these funk-influenced songs generally sound like pale, awkward imitations and are rarely like unique creations, as in the catchy “what how when where (why who).” Without the strength of the music to hide behind, DiFranco’s lyrics, which used to be only occasionally awkward but which of late have been consistently subpar, are thrust into a harsh spotlight. Both discs are abound with such lines as “I love you/and you love me/and ain’t that the way/it’s supposed to be?” (from “Ain’t That The Way”) and “where did you put all those letters/that you wrote to yourself/but could not address?” from “Marrow,” which elicit audible sounds of incredulity. Even “Grey,” one of the most melodic and emotionally honest songs of the two discs, is marred by the more than occasionally cringe-inducing lyrics. The first disc also includes “Kazoointoit,” an overly indulgent song which utilizes an answering machine message that has little to do with the actual song save for a single shared line, and “Fierce Flawless,” a painfully obvious ripoff of DiFranco’s cover of Bob Dylan’s classic “The Hurricane” from her Swing EP. One can only wonder if the individualistic and creative younger DiFranco would have ever stooped so low artistically.

Reckoning, the second disc, is full of dark introspection and social commentary and is even more irritating and less interesting than the first. The disc includes indistinguishable electric guitar interludes with such fanciful but meaningless titles as “prison prism” and “that was my love.” Oftentimes the songs resort to the same oversimplified finger pointing that made the title track of To the Teeth so ineffective. In “Your Next Bold Move” does DiFranco really want to hoist all of the blame of the country’s problems on the right wing and on America’s capitalist society? The main idea of the song, that it is up to the individual to bring about important changes, is certainly relevant, but presented in so few dimensions the song quickly loses its credibility. When not preaching, DiFranco wallows in self-pity, as in “you are still the song that I sing/to myself/when I’m alone” from “Reckoning.” On the second disc DiFranco also pats herself on the back for presenting such startling revelations as, “America is one big subdivision.” Next thing you know DiFranco will be informing us that our vegetables are sprayed with pesticides and that there is a hole in the ozone layer.

It is partly because DiFranco has set such a high standard for herself in her past decade of music-making that her newest release deserves such harsh criticism. Musical and stylistic evolution should be encouraged and DiFranco has successfully incorporated various influences in the past, but a change in musical style is certainly no excuse for trite lyrics, sappy subjects, and underdeveloped musical and thematic ideas. It seems that DiFranco has become more concerned with churning out albums than remembering how to use the erase button. Her newest album is likely to lose even more of her old fans and not likely to win new ones as there is little to enjoy in this overwrought and underwritten release.