Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Two Discs Of Live Ani DiFranco Add Up To So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter.

The Good: Decent lyrics, Moment of voice
The Bad: Dull music, Unimpressive overall vocals.
The Basics: In another disappointing live album, So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter presents Ani DiFranco singing some of her less great songs in bored tones.

As I eagerly await my next female Artist Of The Month package filled with music I am eagerly anticipating reviewing, I am cleaning up some loose ends from last month, the most significant being finishing off a pair of c.d.s from the Artist Of The Month, Ani DiFranco. DiFranco was a huge disappointment for me after years of being highly recommended by people I actually respect. I suppose these things happen from time to time, but truth be told when one commits to a month of an artist and that artist's works turn out to be a lemon, that can be a pretty hellish month. Fortunately, to break up the interminable pain of listening to Ani DiFranco, I went off and eloped. That made things better, for a time!

The penultimate album of Ani DiFranco's music I have subjected myself to is one of her two-disc live albums which is just painful to listen to over and over again. The album, So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter is a two-disc set of Ani DiFranco singing, performing and creating, but it wears thin. The performances are not incredible and the concert(s) from which the songs are culled is not extraordinary or even interesting. The result is a collection of songs that sound a fair bit like the originals and do not add much to the overall Ani DiFranco musical library.

With a total of twenty-four tracks spread out over the two discs, ten at 62:36 and thirteen at 60:25 , So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter is Ani DiFranco with a limited musical ensemble playing over a decade's worth of her more universal songs. The result is a collection of tracks that is mediocre and does not stand out, but is distinctly Ani DiFranco. DiFranco wrote all of the songs and she produced the albums as well. Apparently culled from two or three concerts (the back of disc 1 is labeled Stray Cats and disc 2 is called Girls Singing Night, but track thirteen is separated from the other twelve), this featured Ani DiFranco singing her own songs as the primary vocalist and playing guitars on most of the tracks.

But, the experience is boring at best and at worst, it is listless. On songs like "You Had Time," DiFranco sounds bored singing her own lyrics and the only thing that makes the song even remotely interesting is the addition of a brass section to the song. Otherwise, DiFranco sings or shouts her way through her old standards with little new on the album. Indeed, because so many of the songs were from her "one woman and a guitar" phase of performance, most of the songs sound remarkably like the previously released studio versions. And vocally, DiFranco shows little growth between those albums and this two-disc set, which makes the listener ask "what's the point?"

As she annoyingly whispers her way through "Swandive" with the guitars engineered to drown out her singing, the listener questions DiFranco's musical sensibilities and by the time her voice is loud enough to be understood, many listeners are cringing at the mediocre lyrics and her presentation of them. While some of her earlier albums were hampered by her emotions - where she would growl out her lyrics more than sing them - on So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter she seems not to care about anything anymore and as a result, the simple guitar and vocals are just boring.

Instrumentally, most of the songs are simple guitar, bass, percussion tracks and the album has occasional live noises of the crown produced into them so we know the audience at the concerts was still alive at that point in the performance. The most recognizable and enjoyable song musically would have to be "32 Flavors" because with "Cradle & All" they are the only songs with real melodies. Throughout the album, DiFranco amelodically rambles through her songs with a listless quality and the instrumental accompaniments are hardly more involved or interested than she is while singing her lines.

What DiFranco has going for her, on some of the songs at least, are her lyrics. DiFranco is a fearless, unabashed feminist and one who loves glorifying women and their experiences. So, it is unsurprising that she would write and perform something with unabashed sexuality like "Dilate." On that song, she sings "When I need to wipe my face / I use the back of my hand / And I like to take up space / Just because I can / And I use my dress / To wipe up my drink / I care less and less / What people think / And you are so lame / You always disappoint me / It's kind of like our running joke / But it's really not funny / And I just want you to live up to / The image of you I create / I see you and I'm so unsatisfied / I see you and I dilate" ("Dilate"). DiFranco has no problem or issue with mixing relationship commentary with sexual imagery and that makes for a few incredible moments on the album, at least lyrically.

Unfortunately, not all of her lyrics are gold. "What How When Where" is presented as one of the most agonizingly boring songs ever with lyrics like "What what what what what did you think you were doing? / How how how how how did you think this would go? / When when when when when you showed up on my radar / Where where where where where did you think you would show?" The song is so repetitive that one wonders why she does it live in that it is hardly as impressive or complex as her better songs. On this album, the version she recorded is more annoying than anything else.

That said, DiFranco does include some songs from a stronger folk-rock tradition on this album and that is a welcome return to form for listeners of her works. When she sings "When I was four years old / They tried to test my I.Q. / They showed me a picture / Of 3 oranges and a pear / They said, / 'Which one is different? / It does not belong' / They taught me different is wrong" ("My I.Q.") the listener knows DiFranco is still alive and kicking with something real to say. On songs like that and "Letter To A John," DiFranco cements herself as a songwriter with a purpose, even if she does not always illustrate it wonderfully.

That said, Ani DiFranco is largely uninspired on this two-disc set and it comes through in both her song choices and the way she presents the live songs. Listeners will be left wanting more, even her fans.

The best tracks are "Napoleon" (disc 1) and "32 Flavors" (disc 2) and the low points are "What How When Where" (disc 1) and "Jukebox" (disc 2).

For other Ani DiFranco works, please check out my reviews of:
Ani DiFranco
Not So Soft
Like I Said (Songs 1990-91)
Out Of Range
Not A Pretty Girl
Living In Clip
Little Plastic Castle
Revelling / Reckoning


For other music reviews, please visit my Music Index Page!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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