CHOOSE ANI 

CHOOSE ANI

So, who’s your pick? That dude from Cypress Hill or Chuck D.? The Ruler of the Funky Buddha or The Mouth That Roared? I’m talking about who the new lead singer for Rage Against the Machine should be, of course. The highest-profile radical rock band in the land needs a new mouthpiece, and those seem to be the prime names being bandied about. I wish I could say I’m surprised that no woman’s name has come up, though it’d be a much more radical move to let a femme voice (and perspective) harness the phallic power of Tom Morello’s axe than another Boy Acting Serious and Important. Like Public Enemy before them and like many other great agit-rock acts, Rage’s rage seemed as much about macho posturing as inspiring a livable revolution, and incorporating a little girlie action into their Godzilla-like roar might be a refreshing new direction. All of which is a roundabout way of offering my own suggestion for a new lead singer: Ani Difranco! Why not? Difranco could use the commercial boost after watching her cult diminish over the last few years, and Rage could use someone with the ability to connect their political sloganeering (and the power of their Molotov-cocktail music) to the physical and emotional realities of everyday life. Sounds like a match to me. For those outside her core demographic -- (very) young, smart, left-leaning (white) women -- Difranco can be an acquired taste. After dismissing her for years, like so many others have, as a strident feminist folkie (and “folkie” is the bad word here, not “feminist”), Difranco finally won me over in 1998, when I stumbled onto “Fuel,” a cut from her Little Plastic Castles album. Righteous and caustic, funny and quirky, down-to-earth but with an unexpectedly visionary twist, “Fuel” still sounds like the “protest” song of the decade to me. The song begins with Difranco walking by a Manhattan construction site where a slave cemetery has just been found (“May their souls rest easy now that lynching is illegal/and we’ve moved on to the electric chair”), a sight that triggers a personalized, stream-of-consciousness State of the Union address that encompasses everything from bankrupt politics to crass corporate culture to our isolated citizenry -- all conveyed in a thrillingly conversational, everygirl voice. Then Difranco snaps back to real time, still standing over the unearthed cemetery, with a desire to dig even deeper: “down beneath the impossible pain of our history/beneath the unknown bones/and the bedrock of the mystery” to a place where “there’s a fire just waiting for fuel.” Morello’s quicksilver guitar could be the sonic match needed to ignite the blaze. Okay -- time to cut the crap. Won’t happen, right? Rage’s sound is too monolithic to make room for someone whose rhythms and desires seem so deeply personal. Besides, married and past 30, Difranco’s radicalism knows too many shades of grey to embrace the reckless abandon of Rage’s revolution. The political genius of Difranco’s art is her ability to demonstrate, without ever seeming too willful, how an ethical outlook and subsequent emotional responses can inform how you relate to a lover and a friend as much as it informs how you relate to your country. With the new, two-disc, two-hour torrent of images and ideas, Revelling/Reckoning -- essentially her marriage album -- Difranco makes this connection plainer than ever. What Difranco has done in the process -- perhaps unintentionally -- is leave her kids’ cult behind and craft a great adult pop album -- a hard thing to do in a genre clogged with the dispiriting self-regard of people like Sting and Don Henley. The two records have distinct personalities: Revelling boasts fuller arrangements, making the most of Difranco’s unique jazz/funk-folk. Reckoning is more intimate and introspective, boasting a more captivating group of songs. Each record lives up to its title. Revelling starts off, on “Ain’t That The Way,” with Maceo Parker background vocals and Difranco scrunching up her voice like the “Left Eye” Lopes of funk-folk. The message: “Love makes me feel so dumb.” Difranco restates this theme of romantic happiness a bit more slyly on “Marrow”: “I’m a good kisser/and you’re a fast learner/and that kind of thing could float us/for a pretty long time.” But Reckoning is the real keeper, with “Your Next Bold Move” starting with this: “Coming of age during the plague/of Reagan and Bush/watching capitalism gun down democracy/it had this funny effect on me.” It’s a defeat song, chastising the ineffectualness of a “left wing that was broken long ago,” but what makes it remarkable is how effortlessly the song’s emotion segues into the more personal skepticism of the following marriage songs, “Reckoning” and “So What.” And so it is with the whole of the record, as the political defiance of a song like “Subdivision” (“White people are so scared of black people/they bulldoze out to the country/and put up houses on little loop-dee-loop streets/while America gets its heart cut right out of its chest”) mingles easily with the romantic travails of a song like “Sick of Me” (“The first person in your life/to ever really matter/is saying the last thing/that you want to hear”), making it all sound like part of the same struggle. So while the job might sound tempting, Difranco probably won’t be too concerned if Rage’s invite never arrives. Judging from Revelling/Reckoning, she’s got more serious battles to wage.

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