The Good: Some interesting lyrics, A few good songs (instrumentally)
The Bad: Too self-referential up front, Vocally unimpressive for Melissa Etheridge
The Basics: A decent, but not spectacular, musical outing by Melissa Etheridge provides an album full of revealing personal and political songs by a great rocker!
One of the weaknesses, I suppose, of my listening to an album eight times before reviewing it (at least!) is that the songs that annoy me on the first couple spinnings sometimes wear me down so I am less sick of them by the time I get around to my review. Such is certainly the case with some of the songs at the front of The Awakening, Melissa Etheridge's concept album about surviving cancer and having a spiritual reawakening as a result.
My first two listens to The Awakening, I was unimpressed until the fifth track and then I thought only the middle of the album ("God Is In The People" through "A Simple Love") were worth listening to. Those middle songs are pretty wonderful, like Etheridge's Country-twang-filled tribute to fidelity with "Threesome." The process of getting there, though, was draining and boring, the songs that come after hardly hold a candle to them, so I was on the fast track to rating this an average album without the recommend. A few listens later and the ending tracks don't seem so bad and I no longer grind my teeth through the latter ones. I suspect that those who consider themselves Melissa Etheridge fans (I tend to enjoy her radio hits . . . and Breakdown) will like this album more than I did.
With sixteen songs taking up 59:26, The Awakening is a deeply personal album featuring the raw talents of Melissa Etheridge. Etheridge wrote all of the songs, provides all of the lead vocals and lead guitars. As well, she is credited as a co-producer on the album, pretty much eliminating the argument that she did not produce the album she wanted released. And on the balance, it is an interesting album and certainly one that has its share of being uplifting and interesting.
On The Awakening, Etheridge sings about being a singer ("California," "Message To Myself"), negotiating relationships over the years ("Threesome"), and standing up to the Bush Administration ("Imagine That"). The songs wrestle with the deeply personal, like strong feelings of guilt ("An Unexpected Rain") and the relationship between people and the divine ("God Is In The People") and the universal ("I've Loved You Before," "A Simple Love"). And largely, it sounds very much like Melissa Etheridge.
In general, that means having some well-written lyrics and The Awakening is no departure for that. On this album, Etheridge has more of a folk-rock sensibility as a singing storyteller and that works very well for her. Her sound is still more the rock-end of the spectrum, but her lines tend to be more overtly political or story-songs in a folk tradition. So, for example, she sings "A lieutenant in the army / In his heart and soul he believes / In the land of the free and the home of the brave / Now he's standing on trial / For he will not behave as they wish / He said 'I believe in the constitution / To defend it and uphold / I will not fight your war for profit / No sir I will not go'" ("The Awakening: Imagine That"). While the song will be dated (two months more . . .!), it is certainly a good song with a message that is universal enough for most of us to appreciate even after the current presidential administration ends.
One of the best songs on the album, though, is actually a storysong about the relationship between fame and eating disorders. Even after a dozen listens to this album, "Map Of The Stars" still impresses me with Etheridge's lines "So you got yourself an agent and you made a little deal / They got you on the TV and everyone agreed / You had the charm and the appeal . . . You landed hard on the map of the stars / Now everybody wants you . . . Every night they want you to be / One of the little angels . . . So you eat a little less / And you drink a little more." The song follows a tried and true rise and fall narrative (like Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers' "Into The Great Wide Open") but the song works wonderfully as both a storysong and a public service announcement.
But some of the songs are just too self-referential for my tastes. In fact, "Message To Myself" annoys me every time I hear it. Etheridge sings about writing herself a song so when she hears it, she'll be cheered up. There's just something irritating about listening to a song where the celebrity is so in your face that you don't need others around you, you can write a song, they'll play it and that's all you'll need. Sure, it's not as bad as an Eminem song (which tend to be all about being Eminem), but there's just something too singsong about the lyrics and inaccessible about the theme. I swear, everytime I hear the song, I find myself thinking, "Wow, wouldn't that be great to have a salve like that for my mental health, turning on the radio and bang, I hear myself telling me it's all right?!"
Arguably the best track on the album is "Threesome," a song that stands in defiance to the current pop-culture glorification of threesomes by declaring loudly and boldly (and frequently!), "I don't want to have a threesome / I don't want to sleep with nobody else / I don't want to be a swinger / I'd rather keep you all to myself!" Etheridge has a sense of humor and is able to bring it to bear in her music and that works beautifully for the song. She keeps it light, but meaningful and that has a very disarming quality.
Instrumentally, The Awakening is largely a rock album. Guitar-heavy and strong, the album does a pretty great job of sounding energetic and largely upbeat. "Threesome" is a bit more country than most Etheridge fair, just as there are ballads with "Heroes And Friends," "A Simple Love" and the songs toward the end of the album tend to be more contemplative than rockin'. Largely, this is a guitar-driven album that sounds like virtually every other Melissa Etheridge album in that regard.
Similarly, there is nothing extraordinary from Melissa Etheridge vocally on The Awakening. In the last few songs, singing largely about change, Etheridge holds some notes pretty long, but that's about it. She does not illustrate any real leaps as far as her tonal range and the result is that this album is limited to and characterized by her very standard scratchy low to mid-range vocals.
But it's still good and likely to satisfy anyone who likes a good female rocker as well as most people who like folk-rock music. Etheridge has something to say and on this album, she says it remarkably well for the most part.
The best track is "Threesome," the low point is the banal "Heroes And Friends."
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
For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2013, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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