Janis Ian Karl Dallas - Essay

Karl Dallas

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There's a song on ["Between the Lines"] about a spotty-faced 17-year-old who never gets the Valentines or dates, the lyrics of which work fairly well until we remember that it is hardly autobiographical…. [Janis Ian] was closer to the beauty queens in her song, who marry young and then retire, than to the abandoned and unrequited heroines of it…. I realised that, once again, Janis Ian was failing to say anything particularly noteworthy about one of her chosen subjects. She affects now to disown ["Society's Child"], but because of the historical and social context within which it appeared, her "shocking" song about a love affair that crossed the colour line was important at the time, no matter how naive and even offensive it may be in retrospect. In contrast, nothing she produced during her current come-back has that sort of relevance. The voice has matured, the tunes have that sort of instant acceptability and equally instant forgettability which fills up a remarkable number of albums still, even in these days of alleged austerity, the production is immaculate, and none of it matters a jot. Society's child in America today has different needs and problems than those she touches on but hardly illuminates in her lyrics. Which doesn't mean she should be writing more "political" songs, but a seemingly significant writer should surely be aware [that] what happens to a couple when they are between the sheets doesn't stop at the bedroom door. Sometimes, love songs can be the most political of all.

Karl Dallas, "'Between the Lines'," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), May 10, 1975, p. 33.