Considering America's widespread discontent over war, the economy, and the erosion of civil liberties, it's strange that more full-blooded protest singers haven't come to the fore. Beastie Boys just released a strong anti-war single, and System Of A Down's "Boom!" is being played on MTV, but few contemporary musicians have spoken out consistently the way Ani DiFranco has. To be sure, she's more than just a protest singer, having long mixed the personal and political in an effort to make them indistinguishable. But her music, her message, and her do-it-yourself approach to releasing records make DiFranco one of music's few widely heard voices to stake out a permanent place on the front lines of political dissent. But on Evolve, her desire to express herself politically is pulverized by her desire to express herself musically. Compressing most of her political message into a lengthy ramble on the album's next-to-last track (the 10-minute "Serpentine"), the singer spends most of Evolve dithering on elastic, airy, funk-jazz excursions that convey few opinions or emotions, not to mention hooks. DiFranco has traveled down this musical path before, but her arrangements, statements, and vocals have rarely sounded so inert, or paced in such a lazy, loping way. By the time "Serpentine" rolls around, her indignant statements sound vague and free-associated, as if she were reciting them off a checklist to avoid leaving any pet issue behind. Arguably the weakest point in a prolific and exciting career, Evolve finds DiFranco meandering aimlessly when she ought to be more relevant than ever.

Advertisement