Up Up Up Up Up Album reviews.
Release Date: 11.16.99
Record label: righteous babe
Roam if You Want To
Ani DiFranco's decade-long rise to stardom and critical acclaim is quite admirable in this here-today-gone-tomorrow era of disposable sensitive songwriters. Equally admirable are her refusal to sign with a major label, her frighteningly prolific pen (a new album every year since 1990), and her complete control of all her marketing and production decisions. But the most admirable aspect of this remarkable singer/songwriter is her ability to avoid musical trends and stick to her own vision. In spite of the fact that her being female is just about the only thing Ani DiFranco has in common with the Abra Moores and Natalie Imbruglias of the world, much of her recent popularity is a result of the Lillith Fair genre and its after-effects. It would be easy for her to write a mainstream pop song and receive the same level of publicity as the dozens of Joni Mitchell / Kate Bush wannabes that nobody will remember in 2003. But she doesn't, and most likely never will.
None of the 11 songs on Up Up Up Up Up are very radio-friendly, but for those who like a little more sophistication than the aforementioned whiney-flowery pop has to offer, Ani DiFranco delivers once again. "Tis of Thee" starts things off with a plaintive look at how our society has degenerated over the years in its treatment of the poor, perhaps a bit preachy but she hits the nail right on the head when she sings how we "criminalize the symptoms while we spread the disease." The desperate "Virtue" gets a bit funky, and uses a flute better than any tunes in recent memory. The banjo and harmonica driven "Angry Anymore" is the most accessible song here, in which DiFranco makes peace with her childhood demons. It may disappoint those who expect the bitterness she is known for, but every singer should be allowed to display a variety of emotions, and this rather happy ballad is one of her prettiest songs ever. The 8 minute "Come Away From It" is the biggest winner, a gripping anti-drug anthem framed around a relationship falling apart. It moves ahead in bold new musical directions too, a quiet gospel-like beginning, gradually building to an organ-filled climax that Isaac Hayes would be proud of. The only track that needs to be skipped is "Hat Shaped Hat," a 13 minute trippy road to nowhere that's about 12 minutes too long.
Overall, the album has a darker and more confusing tone than its predecessor, last year's Little Plastic Castle, and it may be slightly weaker in terms of songcraft, but it may also just take longer to grow on the average listener, and a weak album for Ani DiFranco is a masterpiece for most. If you haven't yet been lucky enough to hear the music of this remarkable unpretentious songwriter and personality, this may not be the best place to start, but once you get hooked on "Out of Range," "Not a Pretty Girl" and "Little Plastic Castle," or if you already are, it makes perfect sense to grab this one too.