WITH HIS NASAL snarl prolonging vowels as his acoustic vamps extend his absurdist rants, Dan Bern does everything to encourage Dylan comparisons short of falling off his motorcycle or shacking up with the Lord. His mimicry is as defiant as a frenetic TV car dealer daring you to check out the competition's prices. But as hip-hop history demonstrates, it ain't easy keeping pace with your own self-aggrandizement. In the diffident world of male folkiedom, wishing your testicles would swell to the size of "the wheels on tractors" should provide a welcome testosterone overdose. Still, when the self-heralded "Messiah" of last year's self-titled debut declares, "Sometimes I wish I was Tiger Woods," it's as unexpected as Puffy bragging about the great deal he got trading in his Benz for a minivan.
Bern can turn out triplets such as "May your heart purr like a bumblebee/May all your backyards have a tree/May you always be HIV/Negative" with simulated spontaneity, but Ani DiFranco's crafty production doesn't always suit his strum 'n' spew aesthetic. Thoughtful touches like a xylophone break only remind you that these songs were complete long before Ani got a hold of them. And too often, Bern mistakes punch lines for choruses. A sweet tribute to Bern's older sister ("Where would Willie Mays have been/Without Jackie Robinson?") earns its spot in the lineup, but his explanation of evolution ("Aliens came and fucked the monkey") grows stale with repetition.
Still, nothing could be more useless than a perfect Dan Bern album. He's blessed with an inability to shut up and a gift for blathering through offensive, ordinary, or just plain dumb spiels until he arrives at a verbal payoff. Bern closes a somber litany of the differences between blacks and whites with the tossed-off line "I gotta go now, I need to shave." His nursery-rhyme catalog of women he'll sleep with after there's a "Cure for AIDS" or his guest list for the party he's throwing for all the "Chick Singers" in the world are tasteless morsels to be savored. Every song induces cringes and arouses incredulous smirks; every song (excepting the one that casts Monica Seles as celebrity Christ figure) gives up a joke or observation you can use.
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