Fite concludes his trilogy by applying a new sound to a backwards look.
You might need to be familiar with Tim Fite's “Ain't” trilogy to realize that the title of his latest album, Ain't Ain't Ain't is a sentence, and not a mantra. The distinction matters, because Fite never asserts a nothingness here. While his title might feel like a superficial postmodern play of meaning, his songs delve into a resistance of the ain't. He's writing about the teenage years, capturing not only the anxiety and uncertainty of adolescence, but also the ability to defy those feelings.
Opening track “Hold Me All Night” quickly gets to the brighter side of the tempest. Fite sets the song in violent imagery, immediately establishing the turmoil driving the album with lyrics like “If you wanna knock me out / You better knock me out twice”. The singer's awareness of brutality leads to a challenge, but it's all a mask. The heart of the song comes with the repeated, “If you wanna hold me, hold me all night”, occasionally adding a “she said” to suggest that both partners are desiring this comfort, rather than the challenges of the rest of the song.
The following track, “Girard” provides hope while acknowledging the crush of a bad situation. Fite repeatedly sings “It might get worse than this” before finally releasing us and Girard with “before it gets better and better”. The optimism here comes from the distance of age, but the vocals seem to find their triumph from the midst of a teenage epiphany. “Girard” has a thematic counterpoint in “Bully”, a sing-songy speech given to a bully. In this case, there's no hope or encouragement, but an awareness that “there will always be a bigger bully”. The violence resurface here, with no hints of a way out of the structure.
While Fite deals with a brutal, chaotic world, he's carefully ordered his music on Ain't Ain't Ain't. He built his previous albums on samples, sound collages, and the like. This album, while clearly the work of the same artist, comes closer to a songwriter disc. The music was performed on live instruments, but Fite has worked over these recordings until they line up more with his aesthetic, even if the hip-hop influences have largely disappeared.
The songwriter vibe shows up most fully on the centerpiece track “We Are All Teenagers”. The subdued piece highlights Fite's multi-tracked vocals over soft instrumentation. Fite draws an explicit connection between adult insecurities and the feelings that typically feel so heightened earlier in life. He sings “We are all prom dresses / We are all second guesses” as he walks the line between affecting and heavy-handed. He stays on the artful side of that divide, allowing the “let's live while we can” conclusion to sound better than the lyrics might suggest.
Fite manages that balance well, particularly given the album's subject matter. In dealing with issues like consumer pressure, bullying, and young angst, he turns a limited topic into something more viable. Looking backward lyrically while pushing forward musically, Fite's made a mature album that hasn't lost sense of either youthful energy or concern.