The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 56.0°F | Mostly Cloudy


So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter

So Much Preaching

By Fred Choi

Staff writer

So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter

Ani DiFranco

Righteous Babe

Sept. 10, 2002

Like most of her works of late, Ani DiFranco’s latest release, a live two-CD set, So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter, is an uncomfortable mix of the “beautiful and grotesque,” to quote one of her songs. Recorded in the year and a half from the end of 2000 to the beginning of 2002, the recording features the band, which included drums, bass, horns; Ani on vocals and guitars; and Julie Wolf doing a nice job on keyboards. The set includes a pair of brand new, fairly well-written songs, and quite a few songs from her previous release, Revelling/Reckoning. The latter was a similarly hopelessly mixed two-CD release, much of which was mediocre and an appalling amount of which was virtually unlistenable due to trite lyrics and oftentimes as trite music. This set, fortunately, also includes some successful new arrangements with prominent horn parts of long-time live favorites, some of which made an appearance on Living in Clip, her double live CD from 1997. Although not all of the older songs benefit from the live treatment and few are likely to be all-time favorite versions, most are worth at least a listen.

In general the disc continues the funk-tinged musical vein that DiFranco has explored recently (as opposed to the “folk punk” sound of her most popular releases), which for the most part still continues to sound like pale imitations. Juxtaposed with the old songs, it becomes obvious that DiFranco’s newer songs have lost the power, specificity, and uniqueness that were previously so pervasive. Impulsive passion has replaced crafted coherency, and bluster has replaced poetry. In “Ain’t That the Way,” the opening song of the second disc, DiFranco’s Hallmark-style lyrics go, “isn’t it just like you/ to bring me to my knees/ in my brand new stockings?/ Love makes me feel so dumb.” And in ‘To the Teeth,” a ludicrously simplified take of the problem of gun control in America, DiFranco’s intended irony goes woefully awry in lines like “open fire on hollywood ... MTV ... NBC ... CBS ... and ABC ... on the NRA ... on each weapons manufacturer/ while he’s giving head/ to some Republican senator.”

These songs lack the pitch-perfect combination of poignancy and politics found in older songs such as “Crime for Crime,” which examined capital punishment; “’Tis of Thee,” which looked at inequities in the criminal system; and the beautiful “Hello, Birmingham,” which focused on abortion issues. In the newer, overtly political songs, DiFranco avoids catharsis and insight and instead offers up a viewpoint as narrow-minded as those she rails against.

In the track that will cause the most sharply divided reaction, DiFranco responds to the events of September 11. “Self evident,” an unedited and long-winded nine-minute poem, points its angry finger at the government, and at newscasters who were “struck dumb and stumbling over ‘oh my god’ and ‘this is unbelievable’ and on and on” and who DiFranco suggests were part of a media conspiracy to promote “some prep school punk’s plan to perpetuate retribution.” DiFranco bluntly proclaims, “we hold these truths to be self evident:/ number one: George W. Bush is not president/ number two: America is not a true democracy/ number three: the media is not fooling me.” Further, it becomes apparent that her proposed solution to “get off of this sauce” (i.e. oil) is to “shoo away the swarms of commuter planes/ and find that train ticket we lost” so we can “[roll] over ridges/ through valleys/ under stars.” Clearly DiFranco has read Walden, but other than advocating choosing trains over planes she offers little beyond finger-pointing, preaching to the choir, and the subsequent alienation of former fans who are turned off not by her political messages, but their unartistic and unrefined presentation.

Even sadder than DiFranco’s misguided although well-intentioned efforts is the knee-jerk reaction of the audience. Listen to the crowd scream whenever DiFranco makes some meaningless comment like “millions sit jeering/ collectively cheering/ at the bloodthirsty hierarchy of the patriarchal arrangement” from the long-winded but empty “tamburitza lingua.” DiFranco clearly feels comfortable stating the problems she sees around her. She has been known to play at a benefit here and there and is a vocal supporter of the Green Party, but other artists have done more. If DiFranco wants to preach from the stage, perhaps she should take her cue from others who have seen more action than just standing around and talking about problems and instead spent their time founding non-profit organizations and using their fame, time, and money to fund and promote them.

It is disappointing that the substantial quality of the majority of the tracks is overshadowed by the utter lack of quality of some of the other songs. Tracks like “Letter to a John,” “Napoleon,” and “Cradle and All” show DiFranco at her best; she has clearly proven she is a formidably talented figure who can write intelligent and powerful songs. However, maybe she should think about taking some time off from churning out an album every year and a half and shouting herself hoarse about problems which we already know exist, and use her fame to suggest and implement solutions instead.