Indigo Girls, Despite Our Differences
Hollywood Records, 2006
Are the Indigo Girls phoning it in?
On this, their bazillionth studio album (maybe 12th — it depends on how you count the EPs and retrospectives), the songs are of fine quality but too bland and forgettable.
Across the album, the lyrics are straightforward, with little room for interpretation, which was a strong suit of earlier songs Indigo. Musically, the album lacks the key thrill of the Indigo Girls: soaring vocals and intricate harmonies with lots of contrast. The last two or three IG albums have suffered the same way; it was forgivable as an aberration, but now it’s a trend, and enough already. Instead of Indigo Girls we have one Indigo Girl and then the other. They take turns – Emily Saliers song, Amy Ray song, repeat – and it’s hard to see why they don’t just each make a solo album.
Teasing the old-school fan, Emily’s “I Believe in Love” carries hints of “Language or the Kiss,” and political pop tune “Pendulum Swinger” is musically a ringer for 1990 hit “Hammer and a Nail.” “Run” might live up to earlier IG promise in concert if they really put some power in it; it’s got some of the highs and harmonies with mellow guitar licks of old, but it lacks intensity.
Everything here lacks intensity: there’s no “Least Complicated” with its funky “na na na”s, no gut-wrenching “Blood and Fire.” In “All the Way” Emily sings about “slamming” and “crash course impact” and a “heat seeking path” and “full speed” in an unfittingly relaxed tone. The zingiest spot on the album is when Pink makes a guest appearance, singing harmony (that Emily ought to be singing) on an Amy tune.
There’s a chance these songs would come to life in concert. The IG’s live double album 1200 Curfews (1995) has a very different feel than the studio recordings of the same songs. So perhaps the problem is less with these songs than with their delivery. We need the gutsy bluesy Emily Saliers who made Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” into heartfelt music, the string-breaking, sweating Amy Ray who turned her own “Land of Canaan” into a rousing non-a-ballad-anymore in concert. We need the intricate combinations that used to happen when not only their words but their guitars spoke counterpointing lines. While we’re at it, bring back more prominent percussion and bass, more rests, more intricate guitar solos, more everything.
Despite Our Differences is not begging me to repeat it in the CD changer. It has, however, reminded me to dig up old IG albums and re-enjoy them. C+
— Lisa Parsons