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Ani DiFranco | Educated Guess | review | alternative | Lollipop
Educated Guess (Righteous Babe)
By Jamie Kiffel
It's a serious challenge to know what to say about an artist I want to support, whose art I have believed in over the years, but whose creations might finally have gone beyond the limits of listenability. For all of time, give or take a day or two, artists have complained that reviewers only want more of their old work, and none of their development. Media, artists argue, would like to put a creative person in a box and force them to do the same thing they've always done, like Holden Caulfield wishing he could place moments in glass museum cases and leave them there. The audience would get what they liked best of an artist forever and ever, and the artist would never learn or grow.
So I've always hesitated to say that Ani DiFranco should stop with the ska, the random jazz efforts, the spoken word poetry over meandering guitars that she's been playing with for the past several albums. She started her career as a very young woman, and she should be allowed more than a few years to develop and experiment. And in the back of my mind, it's also true that I hoped that all this experimentation would culminate in a record full of punch, as moving, stirring, and shocking as her first anthems - but with extra depth added by shadows of experience.
What DiFranco has created here is undeniably a culmination of experience, but for me, it is unenjoyable. She has mixed her own album on eight tracks in a shack somewhere by herself; she's sung all the vocals, played all the instruments. She didn't master the record, but aside from all that, the album is her creation alone. There are almost no refrains. There are almost no singable lines. The mind gets lost trying to follow dissonant chords, whispers, high squeaks, and line after line about love and disillusionment and The Man. I feel embarrassed hearing the same messages again, the same idealistic wishes that DiFranco has been singing about for the past too many years. I can't help feeling that she's put herself into her own special box, though this one is made of meandering noise that can hardly let receptive minds inside.
I do want her to talk about the wrongness of big corporations, the betrayal of men, the frantic search for the self. But inside this confusing form she's created, almost no one will ever hear her plaints but her.