Monday, December 31, 2012

Worth Going Back For - Early Melissa Etheridge

The Good: Wonderful lyrics, Some good music, Moments of voice
The Bad: Often a simple sound, SHORT!
The Basics: With wonderful poetics and a distinct, smoky voice, Melissa Etheridge's debut remains a worthwhile listening experience.

After Melissa Etheridge had released a bunch of singles from Yes I Am, radio stations began to play Like The Way I Do, from her debut album, as a new single before the release of Your Little Secret. In this way, she kept herself on the charts and boosted sales of her old debut while preparing her new album. It was a clever strategy. I still respect the concept, so when I was given the opportunity to pick up Melissa Etheridge (her debut album), I leapt on the disc.

Melissa Etheridge, is a ten-track disc that introduced the world to Melissa Etheridge, musical artist. I have a big thing about eponymous albums, but Melissa Etheridge seems to live up well to the autobiographical nature of an eponymous album given what little I know about Etheridge. The music on the album is angsty, but it rocks and it reeks throughout of a person who has been betrayed by others. Conceptually, it might be depressing, but if this is the persona Etheridge wishes to create or portray - in naming a c.d. her own name - she does it quite well.

For those who are unfamiliar with Melissa Etheridge - I recently encountered an 18 year-old young woman who had absolutely no idea who Etheridge was! -, she is a rock and roll singer-songwriter following in the tradition of Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, and - with the storytelling way many of her songs take - Joan Baez. She sings with unabashed sexuality ("I Want You" is very direct at the end of the album), wrenching loss ("Bring Me Some Water") and with the power of jealousy ("Similar Features"). And yet, she creates something completely enjoyable to listen to.

Despite having only ten tracks, Melissa Etheridge covers a wide variety of subjects with a solid rock sound as the common thread. The musical sound - strong guitars and drums - dominate and define the album and in some way limit it. The songs have diverse tempos, but sound similar enough to one another that any track on the album is easily recognizable as coming from Melissa Etheridge. Having listened to a few of her albums now - I own two - the development of Etheridge as an artist makes me wonder if one heard all her songs if one would be able to put together these ten songs as belonging to the same album. It's not necessarily a detraction that they all sound like they are from the same level of development - this is, after all, a debut. The tracks, however, lack the production or complicated experimentalism that come out on later albums, like Breakdown.

Some debut albums are best forgotten, but Melissa Etheridge is one worth going back to and enjoying. The most compelling argument for picking up Melissa Etheridge is that even from the beginning Etheridge was a true artist. Etheridge wrote all ten songs, sings them, and plays guitar on the tracks. As well, she is the album's co-producer and arranger, meaning that she was integral on every step of this album, which is appropriate given the autobiographical title.

And she does it well. It's easy to see why so many people went backwards with Etheridge when - in 1995 - they heard on the radio, "Is it so hard to satisfy your senses / You found out to love me you have to climb some fences / Scratching and crawling along the floor to touch you / And just when it feels right you say you found someone to hold you / Does she like I do . . ." (“Like The Way I Do”). Etheridge is poetic and dark and she expresses anxieties in such a way that still manages to rock. That is no small feat.

Etheridge's voice is a smoky, lower-register range that is very distinctive, like Grace Slick, of Jefferson Starship. In fact, Etheridge's vocals come closest to Slick's performance of "Somebody To Love" in terms of vocal force (if not precise range). Hearing Etheridge on "Like The Way I Do" makes one wish she would cover "Somebody To Love."

Melissa Etheridge is certainly a great album for anyone who likes rock and roll and it is a strong debut, limited only by duration and development. It foreshadows a positive career of an exceptionally talented singer-songwriter and is great for anyone who wants moody lyrics without - necessarily - depressing melodies. C'Mon, anyone who can make a song with a rock-dance beat about jealousy is worth your attention!

The best track is either "Like The Way I Do" or the slow and sad "Precious Pain," which is the distinctly different poetic presentation on Melissa Etheridge. Ironically, one of Etheridge's first tracks released as a single, "Chrome Plated Heart" stands out as the weakest track.

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, please visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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