DiFranco offers up latest musical ‘Knuckle’ sandwich

Jason C. LeRoy

Ani DiFranco sings about love gone wrong on her 21st album.

Credit: Beth Rankin

These are rough times for the politically progressive. Our great flip-flopping hope turned out to be a wash, the inauguration went off with nary an assassination attempt (thank Christ, lest Dubya go down in history as a tragic martyr), and Bush seems to be making good on many of the promises he made to the conservative right to squash gay marriage, abortion, dissent, etc.

All in all, it looks like it’s going to be a long four years. Thus, it makes sense that downtrodden liberals from around the nation, suffering from outrage fatigue, are looking to their leaders for encouragement, support and vision. But, like so many other liberal leaders, self-made punk-folk icon Ani DiFranco seems to be taking this opportunity to lick her wounds rather than motivate the minions.

On Knuckle Down, DiFranco’s 21st release in just fifteen years (!), DiFranco is certainly in something of a melancholy mood. To her credit, however, the majority of these songs were written before Bush was re-elected, and are more concerned with the dissolution of DiFranco’s marriage than the political climate. Still, DiFranco does not separate the personal from the political, and the themes of disappointment and uncertainty resonate strongly with our nation’s collective liberal heart murmur.

These elements kick in instantly on the title track that opens the album. Over her trademark frenzied guitar picking, DiFranco sings, “I think I’m done gunnin’ to get closer/to some imagined bliss/I gotta knuckle down/and just be OK with this.”

These lyrics also hint at the album’s abiding sense of accepting reality and moving on. For, as DiFranco wisely sings on “Callous,” “But you can’t will yourself happy/you can’t will your cunt wet.” Indeed!

Other songs on the album find DiFranco letting the anger juices flow. “Manhole” finds DiFranco meditating on the memories from a failed relationship, arguably her marriage: “But you can’t fool the queen, baby/Cuz I married the king/And maybe it was I who betrayed his majesty.”

However, the album is not without its moments of hope. The lovely “Paradigm” finds DiFranco meditating on her childhood, growing up with activist parents: “I was just a girl in a room full of women/Licking stamps and laughing/I remember the feeling of community brewing/Of democracy happening.”

Knuckle Down ends on a truly radiant note with the song “Recoil,” on which DiFranco warmly extends a sense of solidarity to her fellow broken-hearted fools: “To all the people out there tonight/Who are comforting themselves/If you should happen to see my light/You can stop and ring my bell/I’m just sittin here in this sty/Strewn with half written songs/Taking one breath at a time.”

Contact pop arts reporter Jason LeRoy at [email protected].