I’m told that Ani DiFranco is a popular musician, gaining popularity as a feminist leader and general do-gooder in that regard, but I’d gone all my years of musical exploration without having heard of her until this year (that’s 2012 if you’re just tuning in). Still, I find myself wishing I got into her much long ago, providing all of her music is something not entirely unlike the tracks from ¿Which Side Are You On?
It’s never too late to get into an artist, but something can be said about totally growing up with someone who consistently makes music throughout the entirety of your life. Her music is something I wish I could have experienced in that same vein, because from what I hear, her progression as an artist has gone a lot better than most that you carry through multiple generations.
That being said, this isn’t the kind of music I’ll make it a point to seek out in the future. That is to say, the message conveyed is not one I really … care about when I’m listening to music. It’s not that it’s not important to me, it’s just that I don’t listen to music to get a political view, and I certainly don’t listen to it to encourage me to, say, go out and vote. That’s for internet advertisements, don’t you know?
But the lazy, whimsical drawl of the instrumentation setting the backdrop for a voice that I imagine hasn’t changed much over the course of DiFranco’s 41 years is enough to overcome any distaste I may have for the almost disciplinary tone of the lyrics. That being said, the lyrics are far beyond something that is set forth just to push an agenda. They don’t come off as DiFranco attempting to lecture you from start to finish, it just seems to be a tone that’s learned through years of experience. It’s there whether she intends it to or not.
Though I can’t help but feel at times as though she’s run out of things to say with her message, as evidenced by the bluntness of the track “Amendment,” and that’s without even having heard anything else by her. It’s such a boring, blunt song that there is nothing remotely good about it. That’s the worst thing you’ll read about this album, though. There’s some bad here and there.
And I’m willing to take the bad with the good. If I have to endure a message I don’t want to get to tracks like “Mariachi,” then I’m more than willing. It’s the kind of track that, if it did the kind of thing to my heartstrings that it does now, say, when I was a teenager, I’d never have admitted it to my friends. It’s a beautiful, whimsical song that, at the opening lines (“I’ll be the right hand, you be the left hand, you and me we make, a mariachi band.”) puts a big, dumb smile on my face. If this kind of music doesn’t put a big, dumb smile on your face, then there’s something absolutely wrong with you and you should get yourself checked out.
The listen was a brilliant combination of lyrics that were intense at times and whimsical at others, but the vocals always managed to maintain their quirky flourish. I’ll be going back to retroactively listen to everything this woman has ever put out, even if her message doesn’t necessarily grab me. It’s not one that exerts itself upon you with each and every line, and as someone who generally has zero tolerance for general preachery, you can take that to heart. ¿Which Side Are You On? is worth a listen for anybody who is still reading this review, because that means the genre (folk and pop, if you haven’t kept up) is one you’re interested in, and DiFranco is seemingly at the top of her game.