Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Solid Album By A Solid Artist: Breakdown By Melissa Etheridge

The Good: Excellent songs, Good lyrics, Good instrumentals
The Bad: One or two weak rhymes
The Basics: In a solid rock album, Melissa Etheridge explores the darker sides of love, loss and violence in our society with generally good lyrics and her distinctive sound.

In my review for The Road Less Traveled (Melissa Etheridge's Greatest Hits), I complained that the album lacked the best track of Etheridge's career, "Enough Of Me," so it seems fitting that I would pick up a copy of Breakdown, Etheridge's album that has that single. In fact, I'm thinking I ought to have a new rule in my c.d. collection; if I own an artist's Greatest Hits, I also have to have one album of theirs. I might be willing to do that, too.

Breakdown has been described as Etheridge's "dark" album and, in fact, it's not a terribly cheery outing. Unlike some of her albums that focus on love, this one is definitely one that is focusing on losing love and the inadequacies of love. Even the popular song "Angels Would Fall," which kicks that "If they [angels] knew you at all / Then one by one the angels / Angels would fall" is essentially about love being unrequited. So while there are some songs that have generally positive sounding lyrics, actually evaluating them based on what they say makes Breakdown a thoroughly morose album.

What strikes me right away about this eleven track album is that for all its thematic unity, it has a pretty rich sound. Put simply, no two tracks sound alike, despite the essential instruments being Etheridge's smoky voice, the guitar and drums. It does surprise me given some of the limitations I find with other groups that with so little in the way of instruments on Breakdown, that each track is so distinctive.

As far as the sound, this is a pretty standard rock and roll album. Etheridge is a professional rocker and Breakdown is a very standard album in that regard. There are no real surprises in terms of sound. Drums and guitar dominate, with some tracks having keyboards or one or two other albums. This is not a terribly audacious album in terms of sound. Etheridge certainly entertains and she rocks, but this does not have, for example, the musical diversity of Sophie B. Hawkins' Timbre (reviewed here!) which was an assortment of all types of musical sounds, instruments and styles. No, Breakdown is rock and roll from the first track to the last lick. Again, though, Etheridge makes each track distinctly different in sound so it's easy to listen to this album on repeat over and over again.

When we call this a "dark" album, we are referring to the mood created by the lyrics. In one of the albums least cheery tracks, Etheridge chronicles the death of Matthew Shepard. She writes "Showers of your crimson blood / Seep into a nation calling up a flood / Of narrow minds who legislate / Thinly veiled intolerance / Bigotry and hate." Obviously this is not a happy song. Breakdown explores the beating death of Shepard, the pangs of coming out to family ("Mama I'm Strange"), the agony of striving to be something to a loved one ("Enough Of Me") and flat out fear ("Into The Dark"). What keeps the album listenable while being consumed with lyrics like "I love you past the point of dying / Ain't that enough of me for you" is Etheridge's skill as a singer and her co-producer John Shanks.

A lot of credit has to go to the pair who work very well and it's surprising this album did not net more singles. "Stronger Than Me," despite some of the obvious rhymes (take it/break it, free/me etc.) comes right to mind as a great breakup anthem. One wonders why this album was not one of Etheridge's more prominent commercial successes (which it was not, as evidenced by the charts and it having only one song from this album on The Road Less Traveled). I suppose in 1999 she could not compete with the sugary pop of the Blonde Revolution (Spears, Aguillera, Simpson, etc.). It's too bad, though because songs like "Into The Dark" and the desperate anger of "Enough Of Me" are timeless and enduring.

The enhanced e.d. includes a music video and the usual such extras from back when companies still did them. Nothing earth shattering there.

Who will like Breakdown? Anyone who wants to rock through a bad time. This album has lyrics that explore sadness without really bringing the listener down, which is fairly impressive. Anyone who likes a strong album from a great female rocker will enjoy Breakdown. Who won't like this album? Anyone who is looking for real musical diversity. This is rock and roll, not country, not pop, not folk.

But it's pretty wonderful for what it is. And it's worth adding to your collection. The best track is the superlative of Etheridge's career "Enough Of Me," the weak track is the incongruent attempt at optimism "Truth Of The Heart."

For other works by Melissa Etheridge, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
Brave And Crazy
Nowhere To Go (single)
The Road Less Traveled: The Best Of Melissa Etheridge
A New Thought For Christmas
Fearless Love


For other music reviews, be sure to visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing of all my album and singles reviews!

© 2012, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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