Ani DiFranco’s portfolio is a little like Glastonbury or Burning Man, depending on which side of the pond you want your metaphor. There’s that seminal year you first discovered it, the subsequent comparisons, and a hidden army who know it better than you or came too late to be credible. Bullshit, obviously, but since when was human nature a bastion of balance.
So with Allergic to Water being DiFranco’s eighteenth studio album, yes – eighteenth, there’s no doubt a myriad of fence hopping stories to contend with (I don’t know what the Burning Man equivalent would be) and I apologies in advance if I fall into this trap.
Allergic to Water is out on global release today (13th Oct); 12 slickly produced tracks with Ani DiFranco at the helm, recorded and mixed between her own New Orleans home and a nearby church/studio (think acoustics not religion). It opens softly, with almost distant vocals and a steel string drawl; vocals strut over a slow beat, with lyrics to “remind me to quit my job, say farewell to it all’. Allergic to Water’s opening track is called ‘Dithering’ but it feels more like a road trip.
The following ‘See, See, See, See’ continues this restrained approach, with DiFranco’s vocals bordering on husky (if I could ever use the term without cringing) and me feeling a little shortchanged. Then ‘Woe Be Gone’ introduces strings and lyrics that wake me up to pay attention. “I mean, what the hell, raise your hand if you’re at peace right now, in fact, just stand up and take a bow.”
‘Careless Words’ opens (and closes) with a cymbal crash that makes me think of The Velvet Underground, as DiFranco implores an audience of one to think before they speak – ironically with lyrics I’ve heard the Big Writer behind the Little Folksinger deliver with more aplomb.
Then, on the cusp of the midway point, comes a touch of honesty that stamps DIFRANCO back on this album in big, bold type; the album’s title track is as open and challenging as you’d want or expect.
Alongside some simple keys, the girl/guitar/metaphor formula casually exposes a raw nerve or too. I’m unsure whether it’s a person or profession that ‘tickles my throat and blisters my skin’ in ‘Allergic to Water’, but whatever the focus there’s nothing in this track to distract you from the message. Ani DiFranco sounds tired, of someone or something.
And as if in answer to my doubt, ‘Harder than it Needs to Be’ marks the halfway point and a clear direction for the suffering – on this track at least; “I married your mama, I married your papa, when I married you, and right now it’s clear who I’m talking to.” The single production credit now sits like an unwelcome guest.
The next two tracks, ‘Genie’ and ‘Happy All the Time’ I saw performed at The Glee Club, with the album recordings being (as I remember) tempered and less punchy. But live, forget about it. As good as it gets. Plus there’s an interesting reference to Isis (the goddess not terrorists) in the latter which just goes to show how fu*ked up the world media and Google can make our cultural melting pot. Some things move too quickly these days to be either real or rational.
‘Year Yr Right’ and ‘Tr’w’ somewhat pass me by, before the violins return in ‘Still My Heart’ – with a reverb on guitar that makes me think of a happy David Lynch soundtrack, if such a thing could occur. Then we’re back to stripped back strings and a clear vocal lead, as ‘Rainy Parade’ nudges us to solider on and try a smile once or twice a day (the end to this track, and by proxy the album as a whole, is simple and a bit wonderful too).
Allergic to Water is a proficient production with certainly something to say, just not always to me. There are some brilliant moments and never a dull one (missed perhaps, ignored maybe, but never dull); it’s fresh and inventive in parts, then comfortably familiar in others. But it doesn’t punch me in the face – not in the way I’ve wanted since To the Teeth “stuffed God down the barrel of gun” or Not a Pretty Girl made me realise I could be.
‘Steeped in an exhausted melancholy’ is what I wrote after my first listen, alongside a series of boxing metaphors and concerns for a stranger’s welfare (I’ll say it again, Ani DiFranco sounds somewhat worn down on this recording).
Outside of that was only a list of extended comparisons, which I said I wouldn’t do and have probably done enough. Besides, someone out there can always tell me what I should have thought – circa 1995 or before, that is.
Allergic to Water is out on general release from today, Monday 13th October, on Righteous Babe Records.
For more on Allergic to Water, alongside online purchasing & further Ani DiFranco recordings, visit http://www.righteousbabe.com/