Trying to evolve

So, Ani DiFranco is releasing a ‘retrospective’ album.

I love how all the press the label has released so far is calling it that. Somehow a retrospective album has more cred than a ‘best of’, no?

I have no idea what I feel about this. Ani DiFranco fans, as a rule, are spoilt and whiney. We are used to new material every 12 months, and she releases official bootlegs at an alarming rate. She also toured incessantly before she had her baby girl in February, so even in the periods between albums fans in North America at least got a regular DiFranco fix.

And then, well, she goes and has a baby. And that’s a wonderful and beautiful thing, but the DiFranco flow stops. It grinds to a halt. She stopped recording and touring, and she hasn’t stepped foot on these shores since 2004. It takes one visit to any DiFranco fan forum to take in the angst about these things.

So I guess, when a woman has a body of work the size of Ms DiFranco’s (16 studio albums, 11 live albums and 3 EPs), and a group of vocal, insatiable fans, there’s one really good option. And so here we are.

I don’t do well with best of’s. I think part of it is those late night infomercials that sell packaged ‘best of’ albums for Air Supply and Rod Stewart. It just feels to me like you’re watering down the body of an artist’s work to the songs that are either popular or easily digestible. Which is really the same thing, right? I mean, if you can only enjoy those particular songs of an artist, are you really a fan? Does that make me sound like a music snob? Probably.

I also think that when a musician or band create an album, it’s an all around product and experience. Sure, you can enjoy chapters of the story on their own, but they were really creating a whole book. And I’m not talking about major label manufactured pop music here – real musicians who write real songs. The whole album is an entire story, and the songs essentially are chapters.

So with a best of, really what we’re faced with is chapters from different stories all lumped together in one book. I mean, you get a taste of the genius, but you never get a full sense of the character development and only in one particular chapter do you find out how the story ends. The album Little Plastic Castle begins with the title track, and ends with Pulse. And it OUGHT to end with the rhythmic, sexy, dark drubbing of Pulse. It’s the only fit way.

Blah, I’m starting to sound like one of those annoying people at parties who go on about an artist only ever been good on that obscure 7” release they pressed 12 copies of and sold through that Chinese medicine store in New York’s west village.

Yes. We’ve all known people like that.

I’m also disappointed with the track listing. There are barely any out and out political songs here. Sure, DiFranco writes some of the most poignant, devastating and bittersweet love songs there ever were, but that is really only one part of the amazing songwriter she is. Coming Up takes care of the religion, Subdivision the racial divide, Animal our general apathy and Your Next Bold Move general government dissatisfaction, but it kinda feels a bit like they’ve been put in as an afterthought, and just to check all the boxes. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this? Surely, though, there could have been a nod to Self Evident or Serpentine or Crime for Crime. There are some very strong political strings in her bow and they’re not really represented here.

This brings me back to what I don’t like about these best of albums though. I think they’d be worried they’d scare the majority of their potential market off. A best of needs to be easily digestible. I guess there is one advantage to that – it’ll be nice to have an album to recommend to people now, if they’re curious about her music. Had it been around for the last 6 years it would have saved me making a whoooooole lotta mix CDs.

There’s one thing though saving me from hanging myself over all this – she’s remaking 5 of her older songs, and they’re truly 5 of her best. She’s doing these with her double bass player Todd Sickafoose and drummer Allison Miller. This is enough to get me dead curious, and I’ll admit it, a little bit excited.

So it’s out on September 11 (coincidence? Probably not) and I will probably get a copy. Who am I kidding – I will be buying this album. And all I have to say is the remake of Both Hands had better be worth it.

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4 Replies to “Trying to evolve

  1. Well, I understand what you are saying but I have to say this particular collection is something a little different than your normal run of the mill best of packages – from Righteous Babe’s words; While most Best of albums are thrown together by the record label to fill contractual obligations Canon has been hand picked by Ani…because sometimes the best way to move forward is to take a long look back at the past. And with the inclusion of songs like Hello Birmingham, Subdivision, and god’s country (as a couple of quick examples) this isn’t just a collection of the most universally agreeable songs in an attempt to appeal to mass audiences, but truly a reflection of how Ani herself sees her career thus far…
    What can I say – I’m a huge fan 🙂

  2. Al, seriously, the less said about Pantera the better really 😉

    And Anna, I’ve no doubt Ani, being the woman she is, would have had enormous amount of input into the track listing of the CD. My post is more about my personal issue with ‘best of’ albums, and how this one weighs up with that. Hello Birmingham probably is an exception to what I was saying, but God’s Country and Subdivision are not really difficult to listen to. I guess with something like this, and Ani having the extremely loyal fan base that she does, the track listing isn’t going to agree with everyone. Either way, it doesn’t really change my love for the woman and I will buy a copy of the album.

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