Friday, March 25, 2011

Tiger Tunes: Not A Pretty Girl....But a Pretty Album

Hi kids.  As promised, I’m back with the kickoff to my new series, Tiger Tunes: A-Z.  The first victim is none other than indie folk goddess Ani Difranco and her 1995 album Not a Pretty Girl. 

I was given this album when I was in high school (a few years after it had come out, mind you…I’m old, but not THAT old!), and it’s still one of the standouts from my music collection, and an essential to those of you who have a substantial amount of indie music in your collections.  Here is a track-by-track review, including grades for each song.

Worthy:  The album starts off with a mid-tempo groover set to hippie poetry percussion. Ani basically talks about how she and her boyfriend don’t deserve each other.  Simple message, cool song.  Grade: A

Tiptoe:  This one really isn’t a song so much as it is Ani reciting a free verse poem about a girl about to get an abortion who is contemplating suicide.  Is it autobiographical?  Who knows, but it IS different and clever. Grade: A-

Cradle and All:  The tempo picks up, and Ani rocks out here.  The irony of the arrangement, juxtaposed with the lullaby lyrics of the chorus, does a brilliant job of showcasing Ani’s creativity.  Grade: A-

Shy:  This track comes off as more of a background track than the previous three.  It’s another mid-tempo song that does have a catchy bass line, but doesn’t really pick up until about halfway through.  Still, it’s solid.  Grade: B

Sorry I Am:  This one is pretty self-explanatory, as it’s pretty much an apology song.  Yet Ani’s vigorous guitar-strumming exhibits both loud and soft dynamics that make this a great song to listen to while just lying on your bed on a gloomy Sunday afternoon.  Grade: A

Light of Some Kind:  The aforementioned vigorous guitar-strumming is back in full-force, and Ani’s voice exhibits a growing frustration as the song progresses.  However, as with many Ani songs, I listen to this and fear that she’s going to break a string right in the middle of the song. Boinnnnnngggggg.

Not a Pretty Girl:  The title track is one of many songs thatAni has written over the years that express her individuality and feminism.  She talks about how being her own woman might be misconstrued by some as being angry, bitter, and in need of help to survive in the world.  The awesome line “I ain’t no damsel in distress and I don’t need to be rescued/ So put me down, Punk” particularly stands out for me.  Grade: A+

The Million That You Never Made:  Another song where the guitar strings take a butt-kicking.  This one starts out with a vigorous, fast, yet soft riff that crescendos gradually as the song progresses.  Ani’s voice grows increasingly pissed-off as she hisses to the subject of the song that she could be the millions of dollars that he (she?) could and never made.  The climax explodes with guitar and pounding drums, and the last chord ends with a melancholy sound that, quite frankly, always creeped me out a little.  That’s a good thing.  Grade: A

Hour Follows Hour:  Ani slows it down by crooning out another lazy day ballad accompanied by some gorgeous guitar work.  However, the song tends to drag quite a bit in places, and ends with a bit of a whimper.  It’s another good song to play in the background, but it’s also the weakest track on the album. Grade: B-/C+

32 Flavors:  From the weakest track, we go to the strongest track.  This is Ani’s most well-known song, and some outside of her fan base might recognize it by the cover Alana Davis did the same year.  It’s another long track, but the interesting percussion, infectious guitar riff, brilliant lyrics, and unique African chants towards the end make it an absolute gem.  It’s a song that I really relate to, because the lyrics talk more about individuality and a refusal to be stereotyped.  The line “I am a poster girl with no poster/I am 32 flavors and them some” is a tagline I often use for e-mails and my social networking pages, and I have Ani to thank for it.  Amen, Sister.  Grade:  A+

Asking Too Much:  The things that stand out for me on this track are the interesting syncopation of the rhythm and the brief tempo change during the last 30 seconds.  It’s short, yet cool.  Grade:  B+

This Bouquet:   This is the shortest track on the album, and it curiously seems to go by a little too fast before I can get a really good listen on it.  It’s a bit on the “filler track” side, so it’s not Ani’s best, but it’s not the worst either. Grade: B

Crime For Crime:  Ani gets more political here, tackling the subject of the death penalty.  However, not only is the subject matter heavy and well-expressed, but the rhythms are intricate and heavy enough to jam to in the car, and the riffs are uniquely catchy.  Yet another example of a creative genius. Grade:  A

Coming Up:  I’m not exactly sure what to make of this song.  I have no idea what it’s about, since Ani pretty much rambles off another free verse poem against the background of guitar and tambourine.  But then again, it’s pretty awesome in its own way.  Grade:  A-

Tiptoe (Outtakes):  The album ends on a self-explanatory note, with Ani basically laughing and cursing her way through the Tiptoe poem.  A weird way to end, but you at least get a laugh out of it.  Grade:  B+

And there you have it.  Not a Pretty Girl is definitely not perfect, but all of the songs have enough interesting elements so that there is not a clunker in the bunch.  Still, it remains one of my favorite Ani Difranco albums due in large part to 32 Flavors.  Ani’s creativity with metaphor always impresses me, and by the way she churns out her multiple albums, I’ll be continuing to enjoy her for years to come.

Recommended Tracks: "Worthy," "32 Flavors," "The Million That You Never Made," "Cradle Will Rock

Until next time….long live healthy guitar strings.