Album Review: Ani DiFranco, ‘Revolutionary Love’
Halfway through her new album, Revolutionary Love, Ani DiFranco takes a moment for a “Station Identification,” a free jazz miniature of swirling sounds that weaves the funkiness of Parliament Funkadelic with the ethereal strides of Grover T. Washington, Jr. For a few moments the instruments wander around a central theme with a studied aimlessness before Di Franco’s rapping vocals—enhanced by fuzz tones—reveal the central struggle of the album: how can we achieve unity in our world when we’re fighting against one another and fighting against and within ourselves? “Station Identification” is in its way a small masterpiece, for it shifts the ground from the outwardly political terrain of the first half of the album to the more inwardly personal terrain of the album’s second half, recognizing all the while that the personal and political are so intertwined that our greatest challenge is reconciling them in our lives. With her usual genius, DiFranco goes for the heart of the matter in a few words: “I have a dream/and you have a dream/I have a dream/and you have a dream/why are we fighting each other?/we should be working together.”
The jaunty soul jazz anthem “Do or Die” rides along bouncy keys and a lilting flute that weave a mesmerizing spell over which DiFranco lays her moving vocals, pleading for us to look around us at scenes of social and political chaos and to look inside us and to remember that we can make a change if we try. She reminds us that the motivation to act—“to do”—often comes out of our fear—“to die”—but that it also rises out of our alarm—being “shocked by what people get used to”—and our own desire to give up because the issues are too daunting. This would have been the perfect song to blast before the recent presidential election, for DiFranco reminds us that one way of “doing” is voting: “and if you think your vote doesn’t matter/then you’re not paying attention/yes, everything they do/they do to keep you from their invention.”
The minor chord industrial chamber piece “Chloroform” drags us into the anesthetized state in which we often find ourselves, unable to move or rid ourselves of our individual or collective demons, while the breezy “Contagious” warns us that politics or playing any game in which we mislead others through lies and deception is seductive and, well, “contagious,” infecting us with an ability to see others as less than fully human. DiFranco’s plainly exhorts: “that shit’s contagious/just stay away.”
The bright “Simultaneously” evokes the struggle of living in two worlds at the same time, trying to straddle the abyss that often separates the darkness and hardness of the outer world with the light and tenderness of the inner world: “I live in two different worlds/simultaneously/and between them there is a chasm/and in that chasm a shadow/and in that shadow I stand.” The album’s poignant title track unfolds slowly, organ and Wurlitzer laying down a whirling bed of sound that spirals into a gloriously gospel-inflected chorus that affirms that DiFranco “will bring the love/the revolutionary love” to every situation she encounters; to be sure, this love grows out of woundedness and doesn’t love glibly—”I’ll see right through evil/to a wound, too scared to show/I have the power to stay open”—and seeks self-healing to lay the ground for healing others.
Revolutionary Love shines with a brilliant light that uncovers the darkness of hatred in ourselves and others; it burns with the fire of a passion to embrace the world around us and the world inside us, both worlds that ignite sparks of fierce anger and turbulent love. Sparks of DiFranco’s songwriting genius emanate from her heart, lighting our paths with her intimate candor, her fervor for the power of revolutionary love, and her embrace of the power of such love to change us and the world, if we have the ears to hear these moving songs.
Revolutionary Love is available HERE via Righteous Babe Records.