Janis Ian Paul Nelson - Essay

Paul Nelson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Melancholic self-pity and petulant revenge would appear to be the two main colors in Janis Ian's rather precious, nearly monochromatic rainbow. At her infrequent best, this chronically forlorn artist is sometimes able to elevate the former hue into genuinely moving introspection and the latter into valid social criticism, but too often she seems strangely content to tell us how fashionably miserable she is and that it is all our fault. Ian does not lack talent—"At Seventeen" and "Water Colors" from Between the Lines are fine songs—but could sorely use an unfettered sense of humor and the ability to separate the posture of sensitivity from the perceptions of selectivity.

Listening to Aftertones is somewhat like hearing an Amy Vanderbilt treatise on the emotional etiquette of a Doomed Outsider who "measures out the time in coffee spoons" …, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. Exceptions are the Dylanesque "Boy I Really Tied One On" and the LP's best song, "This Must Be Wrong."… "I Would Like to Dance" is okay, too.

Janis Ian, Janis Ian, stop living your life like a soap opera. Cut the pettiness and the poetaster's crap, and maybe we'll love you for who you really are: Mickey Spillane trying to pass for Johnnie Ray at the high school prom. (pp. 66, 69)

Paul Nelson, "Records: 'Aftertones'," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1976; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 210, April 8, 1976, pp. 66, 69.