Friday, July 22, 2011

Young Rock In A Time Of Discovery: Brave And Crazy Ages Well!

The Good: Generally well-written lyrics, Good voice, Competent instrumentals
The Bad: Little variation in instrumentation and vocals, Predictable rhymes in the beginning.
The Basics: A pleasant listen, Brave And Crazy is one rocker's dawn with potential that won't be adequately tapped for at least another album.

Long before Yes, I Am, Melissa Etheridge put out Brave And Crazy and my first thought when listening to the very first track on the album was, "Oh My! She suffers from Avril Lavigne Syndrome." ALS, as I've taken to calling it around the house, is a condition that springs from my thoughts of Ms. Lavigne's first single "Complicated" (and only supported by hearing every subsequent song of hers), which is that given the chance to make a rhyme, Lavigne chooses the most obvious rhyming pairs. In "Complicated," for instance, you have "be"/"see" "cool"/"fool" and "fall"/"crawl" and on and on. That the populace didn't get sick of Lavinge's "Complicated" after ten listens surprises me, then again, it's teen buying force.

For Etheridge, it's "shame"/"name" and "me"/"be"/"see"/ "key" (in rapid succession) on "No Souvenirs," the first track of the disc. "No Souvenirs" is a pretty standard rock tune and, to be fair, it's a good opening song to the disc. It works in that it sets up the listener for guitar strummings, brassy vocals and noticeable drum work.

What follows are nine tracks of middling quality that generally surpass the average rock debut standards. Lyrically, the songs succeed. Outside "No Souvenirs" and "You Used To Love To Dance," the songs have excellent diction. Indeed, Etheridge here has an almost folk quality about her, painting stories with each song and creating a collection of episodes for the listener to travel through with her voice as a consistent narrator.

And her voice does it. Etheridge is easy to listen to. Her vocal quality is distinct and her her tone is enough to keep us entranced.

Unfortunately, Brave And Crazy does not illustrate much in the way of range. Almost restrictive in the sound, the album seems stuffy, as if it opens with saying "Here I Am!" then stopping and continuing to have the viewer look at the same facet rather than turning to show us all of the subject. There's a stifling homogeny to the vocals that is unfortunate, making many of the songs sound the same. Etheridge never ventures out of her safe alto-tenor range. The raspy voice never attempts sopranic lilts and while that may be for the best, the range that Etheridge works in feels more like "stuck in" by the end of the album.

Similarly, the music progresses with little deviation. There is a clear rock style. There are guitars, bass and drums. To be fair, there's the occasional keyboard, but it's a supporting player and not an influential sound in the album.

So, what ought one to expect from Brave And Crazy? This album is a collection of stories that share a simple theme: honesty. Whether it is the forceful, folksy rock sound of "Testify" or the quiet lament of "You Can Sleep While I Drive," Etheridge is telling stories with an honest voice. In the quiet, melodic "You Can Sleep While I Drive," Etheridge implores her lover to run away with her, while admitting "There's a chill in my bones." Nothing here is terribly idyllic.

In the penultimate track, the honest voice turns ironic, declaring that love is only simple. In that track, "Skin Deep," Etheridge combines lyrics that flatly declare one thing with a jester's tone that clue us in easily to the irony, the message is something else. In fact, only "My Back Door" becomes difficult to listen to with the repetition of the word "gone." Even with the occasional cliche rhyme, only "My Back Door" becomes truly tiresome.

So here, Melissa Etheridge is suffering from the usual problems of a debut album (which I believe, but am not positive this is): there is little range, the song titles are pretty much what one would expect from the refrains and there's nothing terribly groundbreaking here. This is the album that introduces the bird, perhaps the next one is where she will fly.

This album is ideal for anyone just starting an appreciation of women in rock and wanting to see some of the origins of today's rock acts. As well, it's a fascinating study in how far one artist may come in a decade (when compared to Yes I Am, Your Little Secret or Breakdown).

The best track is "You Can Sleep While I Drive." The weakest song is the fate-evoking "The Angels" which is the only song that removes responsibility from the players in the story and places it in the hands of another.

For other works by Melissa Etheridge, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
Nowhere To Go (single)
A New Thought For Christmas
Fearless Love


For other music reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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