March 6, 2003

A Backwards Evolution?

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If Ani Difranco were an alcoholic beverage, she’d be a Guinness. Why’s that? Well, her long history is original, mysterious, dark, and certainly bitter. But like any acquired taste, Difranco is worth the exploration and investment.

Ani’s twelfth studio release, Evolve, is a collection of twelve new tracks from the eclectic songstress. At first listen, Evolve sounds like one 57-minute-long track. As a result, this Difranco album requires its audience to actively listen in order to comprehend what is being said and what exactly it’s suppose to mean. Unfortunately my devoted effort at this feat was not entirely successful. And if you’re one of those types who has to understand all the lyrics before appreciating a song, Evolve has its work cut out for you because of Ani’s verbose style.

In the past I have been an avid Ani admirer and supporter due to my fascination with her ability to arrange song lyrics that provoke thought and emotion through colorful descriptive language. The news of her latest release peaked my curiosity to see if Difranco could live up to the standards I held for her, but I am surprised and disappointed to announce she did not.

Evolve she did, however. Difranco can — and should — be praised for her fearless attempt at altering her musical style by creating an album with a mellower feel and jazzy accompaniment that had not been previously explored by the artist. Even 50 Cent wouldn’t label her as being fake. After all, she did create her own record label and never sold out when the big suits came knocking on her door with record deals.

Evolve does have some shining moments, however. But it’s not the 10-minute ‘Serpentine’ track that plagues the album. Sure, the track has some in your face political and social expression, but overall the song is too long and uninspiring to keep a conscious listening audience.

Then there’s “In the Way,” which features the use of the word “way” approximately 20 times (not that it’s way over used and way too distracting to notice though). This song does have an energetic feeling and some lyrics that are worthy of Ani branding. A common Difranco theme, the breakup, is described as “We took down all the pictures then we took down all the walls/ Packed up our expectations, piled ’em up in the hall/ We bagged our future and kicked it to the curb/ Then we stood there unencumbered and we stood there undeterred.”

“Evolve,” the title track, bears the lyrics “our lives boil down to an hour or two when someone pulls a camera out of a bag