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 â€˜best ofâ€™, 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 thatâ€™s a wonderful and beautiful thing, but the DiFranco flow stops. It grinds to a halt. She stopped recording and touring, and she hasnâ€™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 DiFrancoâ€™s (16 studio albums, 11 live albums and 3 EPs), and a group of vocal, insatiable fans, thereâ€™s one really good option. And so here we are.
I donâ€™t do well with best ofâ€™s. I think part of it is those late night infomercials that sell packaged â€˜best ofâ€™ albums for Air Supply and Rod Stewart. It just feels to me like youâ€™re watering down the body of an artistâ€™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, itâ€™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 Iâ€™m not talking about major label manufactured pop music here â€“ 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 weâ€™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. Itâ€™s the only fit way.
Blah, Iâ€™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 7â€ release they pressed 12 copies of and sold through that Chinese medicine store in New Yorkâ€™s west village.
Yes. Weâ€™ve all known people like that.
Iâ€™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 theyâ€™ve been put in as an afterthought, and just to check all the boxes. Perhaps Iâ€™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 theyâ€™re not really represented here.
This brings me back to what I donâ€™t like about these best of albums though. I think theyâ€™d be worried theyâ€™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 â€“ itâ€™ll be nice to have an album to recommend to people now, if theyâ€™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.
Thereâ€™s one thing though saving me from hanging myself over all this â€“ sheâ€™s remaking 5 of her older songs, and theyâ€™re truly 5 of her best. Sheâ€™s doing these with her double bass player Todd Sickafoose and drummer Allison Miller. This is enough to get me dead curious, and Iâ€™ll admit it, a little bit excited.
So itâ€™s out on September 11 (coincidence? Probably not) and I will probably get a copy. Who am I kidding â€“ I will be buying this album. And all I have to say is the remake of Both Hands had better be worth it.