Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Another Ridiculous "Best Of" For Two Albums! Like I Said May Be Left Behind.

The Good: Generally decent lyrics
The Bad: Limited instrumentals, Often lousy vocals, Short
The Basics: Ani DiFranco underwhelms with a compilation from two albums with Like I Said (Songs 1990-91) which will not impress fans or those looking to become fans.

A few years back, I found myself surprised and dismayed when Sophie B. Hawkins left Columbia (Sony) Records to start her own label that Sony released The Best Of Sophie B. Hawkins when she left. This silly compilation album was Sony exploiting the material Hawkins left behind to make a dime off the work from the artist that was no longer associated with them. Hawkins had bought back the works from her third album, so all Columbia had they could release was material from her first two albums and a single Hawkins had made for a compilation album. At least with Sophie B. Hawkins, the record company worked without her knowledge or legal ability to stop them.

It is, then, pretty ridiculous that Ani DiFranco, who owns her own record label, would pull a similar stunt with her own work. Her 1993 album, Like I Said (Songs 1990-91) is a simple compilation of her first two albums which were still easily available (and still are) when the compilation was released. The album is pointless, boring and an uninspired collection. Later compilations that either were true "best of" albums or offered the same old songs live made a lot more sense than Like I Said (Songs 1990-91). There is something weird and disturbing about an artist simply re-releasing a mix of their other albums only a few years after their initial release. And, again, because DiFranco holds the rights to the originals and the original albums are still out there, the purpose of Like I Said (Songs 1990-91) is not entirely clear. Well, unless that purpose is for DiFranco to exploit her fan base and make some money! If that is the case, well then, this makes perfect sense!

With fifteen songs, clocking out at 48:28, Like I Said (Songs 1990-91) is the works of Ani DiFranco culled from her first two recordings, Ani DiFranco and Not So Soft without any new tracks. The thing is, both albums could have just about filled a single c.d. with fewer cuts than this. As it is, the failure to even use the full capacity of the compact disc is disturbing and for an artist as prolific as Ani DiFranco, this is disappointing - even for those who might not be wowed by her music.

But this is distinctly the work of folk-rock artist Ani DiFranco. DiFranco wrote all fifteen songs and she sings lead vocals on each and every one as well. DiFranco plays guitar on all of the songs as well and it is in every way her musical vision and ability that is collected here. She is credited with co-producing the album, so that this is that album she wanted to put out there is virtually inarguable. When one considers that this is an unnecessary compilation to begin with, it seems odd to think DiFranco might have included anything that she did not want or like in its original form. So, it is fair to say Like I Said (Songs 1990-91) is DiFranco's version of her best songs from this era in her career, at least as she considered them . . . two years later!

The fundamental problem with Like I Said (Songs 1990-91), outside being thoroughly unnecessary given the duration of DiFranco's career at that point, is that DiFranco was not at her best in those years. Instrumentally, DiFranco is remarkably limited on this album. She is one woman with a guitar and she sounds exactly like what she is. As a result, this incarnation of Ani DiFranco is stark, acoustic and bland. DiFranco here sounds like any number of talented young women who might be traveling in the coffeehouse singing circuit to try to entertain crowds of college students who go based on the word of friends who have heard her before. The songs on Like I Said (Songs 1990-91) illustrate no abundance of talent for DiFranco on the guitar and some of the songs have virtually identical guitar sounds, like "Anticipate" and "Out Of Habit."

Even worse are DiFranco's vocals. At least with my experiences with coffeehouse grrrls, they have voices that support their message. In short, they have vocal abilities. They are on stage singing their hearts out because they can sing. DiFranco has a nasal singing voice that is just annoying on this album. She might have heart, but she seldom illustrates an ability to sing clearly and melodically, save on one or two songs like "Both Hands." Instead, most of the songs are more like "The Slant" where DiFranco speaks without even trying to pretend she is singing. Okay, that is not entirely fair; other songs she accompanies her voice with an instrument to pretend what she is doing is singing, but the result is more of a speak-singing that is amelodic and droning as opposed to actually musical.

What keeps DiFranco and Like I Said (Songs 1990-91) from the lowest possible rating are her lyrics. While I might not be wowed by their presentation or the esoteric nature of the compilation, DiFranco has the ability to write. DiFranco is fearlessly feminist and she sings about things that few other people dare to. That unabashed sense of persona is a welcome change and her lines "I opened a bank account / When I was nine years old / I closed it when I was eighteen / I gave them every penny that I'd saved / And they gave my blood / And my urine / A number / Now I'm sitting in this waiting room / Playing with the toys / And I am here to exercise / My freedom of choice / I passed their handheld signs / Went through their picket lines" ("Lost Woman Song") are unlike anything else in music, certainly different from the blase songs being heard on the radios back in the early 1990s or even today.

Still, some of DiFranco's songs on this album are not her most lyrically impressive. Others, for example, seem to like "Rush Hour" better than I do. But hearing "Rush hour / And the day's dawning / The rain came / And pushed me under the awning / The puddles grew and threw themselves at me / With every passing car / I'm shielding my guitar" ("Rush Hour") over and over again on high repeat leaves me indifferent. Sometimes DiFranco uses remarkably simple rhyme schemes and she does not wow those who look to her for a strong sense of relationship realism.

That said, DiFranco does include "Both Hands," a legitimate hit for her that ought to have made her loved outside just the folk-rock circuit. On that song, DiFranco was articulate and came up with amazing imagery. Indeed, it is hard not to hear or read her lines "In each other's shadows we grew less and less tall / And eventually our theories couldn't explain it all / And I'm recording our history now on the bedroom wall / And when we leave the landlord will come / And paint over it all" ("Both Hands") and not feel the sense of loneliness and loss that the song is all about.

Still, there is not enough on this album to keep listeners seriously interested or intrigued by it and anyone who likes Ani DiFranco will find more value in avoiding this and getting the two albums this culls from. And for those not into DiFranco's music, this is not the best compilation or album to try to woo new listeners with.

The best song is "Both Hands," the low point is the bland "Not So Soft."

For other Ani DiFranco works, please check out my reviews of:
Ani DiFranco
Not So Soft
Not A Pretty Girl
Living In Clip
Little Plastic Castle


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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