Ani DiFranco, Which Side Are You On?

Peter Blackstock

By Peter Blackstock

on 01.17.12 in Reviews
A sprawling canvas that rarely enters simple singer-songwriter mode

“I’ve got red scabby hands and purple scabby feet/ and you can smell me coming from halfway down the street.” Not the first impression most artists would dare to make, but Ani DiFranco never has been much for convention. That couplet from “Life Boat,” the opening track on Which Side Are You On?, discomforts from the outset, which is just how Ani would have it. The title track further cements that tone, borrowing its framework from the 1930s political folk song made famous by Pete Seeger and others; DiFranco has rewritten its lyrics en masse, attacking everything from Reaganomics to rampant consumerism to corporate corruption. She’s more interesting when she’s less didactic, as on “Promiscuity,” an engagingly funky number that suggests, “Promiscuity is research and development, evolution begs embellishment.” Musically, DiFranco is all over the map, from jazzy explorations to Latin rhythms to dynamic pop hybrids. Rare is the moment where she slips into simple singer-songwriter mode, but it’s brilliant when she does: “Hearse” may be the most poignant love song she’s ever written, summarized in the promise, “I will follow you into the next life, like a dog chasing after a hearse.” One might pine for more such simple sentiment on this sprawling canvas, but after making music for 23 years and as many albums, DiFranco seems focused foremost on her own artistic visions. As she puts it bluntly on “If Yr Not,” amid angular riffs and tribal rhythms: “If you’re not getting happier as you get older, then you’re fucking up.”