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Trapped on the Soapbox 

by Cortney Harding & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & ni DiFranco, the third wave's answer to Ryan Adams, has yet another record out. She's up to album number 18, and she's only been around since 1990. DiFranco, like Adams, is one of those artists who are too prolific for their own good; each of her records has a few outstanding tracks, but they are usually buried under a wall of filler. That's a side criticism, though, not the main problem. There are deeper DiFranco debates to be had, particularly on the topic of her inability to play or think outside a very small political box.


DiFranco's dour didactics arguably alienate more would-be fans. It's not like her committed fans are any better; when DiFranco made a record in the late '90s about falling in love with -- gasp! -- a man, she was vilified, and had to write another record to justify having human emotions and wanting a relationship. Perhaps she should have taken a page from the Britney Spears playbook and simply posted a ramble on her Web site.


There was a time when I liked Ani Difranco; namely, the years 1997 and 1998, when I was a high school senior and college first-year. Her music was so black and white, so cut and dry, and at the time it made sense to look at the world that way. Womyn love was good. Patriarchy was bad. I quit listening to her after my first year at a New England women's college. At that point, if I had heard another warble about little plastic castles, I would have vomited.


The problem with DiFranco, fundamentally, isn't her politics; it's that she can't express them in an interesting way. Sleater Kinney, on the other hand, wrote rock songs about current events and politics that were more interesting, more personal and most of all, rocked. There are plenty of other female musicians writing intense, complicated, astute stuff, and yet somehow DiFranco has managed to remain the public face of the latter day female troubadour.


Not only is she an emblem of the girl folkie, she also seems emblematic of the old school, "power to the people" school of politics. Which was fine, in 1966. Problem is, the model is more outdated than an Edsel. Folksongs and clipboards and earnest door knocking can't hold a candle to slick ads, covert operations and Godsmack's songs in Army commercials.


In the end, Ani seems like a nice enough person, and you can't deny that she's committed to her causes. The problem is her lack of willingness to analyze and criticize the issues she holds so dear are what render her so one-dimensional. I'm not saying Ani needs to release a Toby Keith covers album (though it'd be worth the $16 just to hear her sing "Beer for My Horses"). If she asked a few more questions, though, she just might find an answer.





Ani DiFranco at the Met on Wednesday, August 16 at 8pm. $37. Visit ticketmaster.com or call 325-SEAT
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