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Ani DiFranco: Little Plastic Castle

Much is made of Ani DiFranco's phenomenal success outside the mainstream music industry: Her 10 albums have each been self-released, yet her concerts invariably sell out in minutes, and she's graced the cover of virtually every magazine in America during the past two years. Amazingly, DiFranco's career has been built on little more than live-wire energy and uncompromising independence, but on Little Plastic Castle, she falls into a trap that catches too many newly mega-famous songwriters: Because she's so popular, and so heavily analyzed by critics and fans, she's allowed far too many of her songs to address the dreaded Perils Of Fame. It doesn't take a whole lot of interpretive skill to decipher the meaning of lyrics like, "People talk about my image / like I come in two dimensions / like lipstick is a sign of my declining mind / Like what I might happen to be wearing / the day that someone takes a picture / is my new statement for all of womankind." Of course, that sort of defensive statement—does this mean those dozens of cleavage-baring, face-down-eyes-up photos of DiFranco were taken on the same day?—is part of what makes her so much more compelling and contradictory than the thousands of one-dimensional singer/songwriters out there. And though it's obviously going to lack the intensity of DiFranco's stunning live shows, Little Plastic Castle has more than its share of powerful moments. The edgy, oft-released "Gravel" and the subtle, pretty "As Is" are both powerful relationship songs—and "Deep Dish" is an amusing experiment, complete with mariachi-style horns—but DiFranco saves the album's best material for last, closing the album with the lovely, dramatic, 14-minute "Pulse."


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