Twenty years and 10 albums into their career, the Indigo Girls are still finding ways to tinker with their trademark formula. On Despite Our Differences, the duo’s first album for Hollywood Records, they brought in producer Mitchell Froom, who might seem like an odd choice given his recent work on Daniel Powter’s self-titled debut but who ultimately balances the Indigo Girls’ earthiness with some of the strongest pop hooks that either Emily Saliers or Amy Ray have yet committed to record. That the album is also the Indigo Girls’ most politically subtle recording in some time seems incidental to its broad accessibility. Saliers’s “Pendulum Swinger” opens the album with an indictment of the macho posturing of the War on Terror, but the remainder of the album’s politics are more personal, negotiating the aftermath of failed relationships (on Saliers’s “I Believe In Love” and country-inflected closer “Last Tears”) and coming to grips with the fact that simply staking a claim in the world is, in and of itself, an act rooted in conflict and confrontation (on Ray’s standouts, “Money Made You Mean,” “They Won’t Have Me,” and “Dirt And Dead Ends,” which sounds like a Drive-By Truckers song from a woman’s point of view). Despite Our Differences (particularly with “Rock and Roll Heaven’s Gate,” a fiery collaboration with Pink—returning the favor for I’m Not Dead‘s “Dear Mr. President”—that also gives Ray the chance to show off her electric guitar chops) is both the most commercially viable and the most focused and energized that the Indigo Girls have sounded in a decade.
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