Thursday, January 10, 2013

It Had To Have That One Song ... Never Enough Saves Itself and Then Some

The Good: Some good lyrics, "Dance Without Sleeping," Some good vocals
The Bad: Musically limited, Some predictable rhymes, Short
The Basics: On her third album, Never Enough, Melissa Etheridge continues to grow in vocal and thematic range while maintaining the integrity of a genuine artist.

As I listened to the first two tracks of Melissa Etheridge's third album, Never Enough, I thought this was perhaps the Etheridge album that might be dispensable, with all of the best tracks being present on her Greatest Hits album, The Road Less Traveled. "2001," the second track, did not overwhelm me. Then came the third track, "Dance Without Sleeping" and I just sat up and said, "Damn." This is a cautionary tale for those who would leap to conclusions too quickly.

Never Enough is a ten-track album that clocks in at just over forty-five minutes, which I still argue is too short. The only track from the album to make the cut to The Road Less Traveled is the opening song, "Ain't It Heavy." And it's a decent song - it won a Grammy, too - but it's astonishing that "Dance Without Sleeping," which was released as a single, did not make the cut.

"Dance Without Sleeping" stands out as an exceptional use of Etheridge's voice. Unlike most of her songs that she uses her voice in a way that is smoky, occasionally raspy and thick, "Dance Without Sleeping" is Melissa Etheridge as bells. Her voice is at its most melodic and sensual and it's astonishing for fans to hear. My favorite Etheridge album remains Breakdown, but there is nothing on that work that sounds as . . . sensual as her voice on "Dance Without Sleeping."

On Never Enough, Etheridge is presenting mostly rock tracks and "Dance Without Sleeping" certainly is an anomaly. She starts the album with "Ain't It Heavy," one of her most guitar-driven tracks and follows it up with the equally driven "2001." The fourth track is almost folk in the delivery as Etheridge sings an emotive song. But most of the album is straight rock and roll and it works well with Etheridge's forceful alto voice. And when she wants soft, she can deliver, but most of Never Enough is guitar-driven rock.

Etheridge continues her tradition of writing or co-writing all of her own songs (only two tracks are co-written on Never Enough) and she continues to exhibit that she is an able lyricist. Even without her voice, her lines are poignant, like on "The Letting Go," where she sings, "Freedom like a stone / Maybe we were wrong / But I can say goodbye / Now that the passion's died / Still it comes so slow / The letting go . . ." What a sentiment! "Freedom like a stone," so perfectly describes the bind of releasing a relationship, the double-edged sword of having one's freedom balanced against the loss of so much security and love.

Etheridge is an able lyricist and poet and on top of that, she wrote or co-wrote all of the music. It amazes me, after hearing Etheridge, that so many artists manage to write the lyrics, but not the music. Etheridge makes it seem effortless and I imagine the process of writing songs for her is deeply intertwined between the music and the lyrics.

Melissa Etheridge, for those unfamiliar with her works or talents, is also an able guitarist. On Never Enough, Etheridge plays electric guitar or acoustic guitar on eight of the tracks and piano on one of the others. Etheridge remains a true artist here, integral at all steps in creating the album, up to co-producing it. That's impressive and admirable.

What is distinctive about Never Enough is that Etheridge lets loose in more ways than just vocals. "Meet Me In The Back" is a fun song. Etheridge keeps it up tempo and exciting; it's a song about sneaking out back to make love in the dark. Etheridge is well known for dark, moody songs or rock songs that make angst into something that one can bob one's head to. But on Never Enough, some of the tracks are just openly fun, like "Meet Me In The Back."

That is not to say it's all fun and games. Etheridge's signature longing is present on many tracks, including the foreshadowing track "The Boy Feels Strange." She sings about loss of relationships ("The Letting Go" and "Keep It Precious") and closes with a more subtle track of desire ("It's For You").

And the album works all together. The tracks move very organically from one to the next, mixing fast and slow, harder rock and softer pop. For those who are unfamiliar with Melissa Etheridge, Never Enough makes a great introductory album, illustrating much of her range. Despite the musical limitations that come with primarily presenting songs with guitar, keyboards, bass and drums, Etheridge creates a wonderful mix with generally high caliber of expressive lyrics.

And there's no lasting hype to this album. As mentioned, only one track made it from Never Enough onto Etheridge's greatest hits; that's more a function of commercial success and retrospect than actual greatness. Never Enough seems like it should have charted more singles. Barring that, it's refreshing to hear a solid album by a genuine talent.

The best track is the vocally superb and lyrically sensual "Dance Without Sleeping," the weak point is "2001" which is fairly generic rock.

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


For other music reviews, be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2013, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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