If there’s a correlation between an album’s cover art and the tone of the record, Melissa Etheridge is certainly putting that notion out there. Her previous DVD release Live… and Alone had the singer alone in a dark, empty venue, facing the world on her own. Now, with a new belle on her arm and the past behind her, Etheridge is looking at the glass as not only half-full, but overflowing. And the album art is alive, colorful, and full good luck charms. It’s a noticeable, painless difference that makes this album take off a hell of a lot more quickly than her previous album. The opening title track has all the roots rock she’s known for, while offering some studio smarts along with the crunchy Stonesy riff weaving its way throughout. “I was dried up I was starving I was mangled / I looked like hell, twisted up and tangled”, she sings, cutting to her biographical quick quite quickly.
From there, Etheridge moves into the mid-tempo ballad of “This Moment”, which sways effortlessly as she gives one of her best performances in recent memory. And it’s full of a gushing happiness that thankfully doesn’t stifle the song. It tends to go a tad over-the-top with the bombastic bridge, but she manages to rein it back in nicely. She certainly found her radio-friendly chops again on the crunchy, meaty, and thumping “If You Want To”, a tune that will probably end up being a second or third single, perfect for those long summer drives. If there’s one knock against the song, it’s that it ends too abruptly. What’s puzzling about the album is how there is a drop-off in terms of how the first single, “Breathe”, fails to stack up as well against the opening trio of tracks. Not that it’s terrible, but it sounds a bit forced at times, with Etheridge not losing herself in the song as much as she could. She tries to make up for it during the closing moments, but it’s a bit too little, too late.
One of the strongest songs on the album has to be the rather quirky “Mercy”, which has a touch of a hip-hop backbeat, a simple melody, and strong-yet-hushed backing vocals from Bernie Barlow and Kipp Lennon. Looking back at the past but seeing light at the end of the tunnel, it’s a lovely little pop nugget that will probably be overlooked. Even better is the fact that the bridge is omitted in order to keep the song’s momentum flourishing. It’s left for the conclusion, though, which is a fine exclamation point. What is perhaps the oddest track of the lot is a rumbling, murky tune that sounds as if she’s deciding whether to go into a nu-metal wail, or deeper into a hip-swiveling blues riff. “Secret Agent” is the title of this tune, and thankfully she goes down the blues highway. She also drops a few lines that have a meaning or two within them, particularly: “All the boys want to know if she’s got something to hide / All the girls are relieved she’s working for the other side”. Etheridge lets loose on the song as well, bringing to mind the fact that she was once slated to play Janis Joplin (and still could, given the vocal power and prowess she shows here).
Despite all the happy-go-lucky hoopla to the record, there are still a couple of songs that miss the mark, including the self-doubting “Will You Still Love”, a song that might have been better performed as a simple acoustic guitar, singer-songwriter format. The piano-driven lullaby called “Meet Me in the Dark” could be construed as “Come to My Window, Part II”, a tune about finding a spot where two lovers can be themselves. The Springsteen imagery of dead-end jobs and going down to the river are quite apparent, but the delivery takes far too long to grab the listener. A 9/11 tune which talks about Flight 93 is described in “Tuesday Morning”. But Etheridge turns the tables when she describes Mark Bingham, a gay male who was one of those who fought the terrorists despite not having the same civil rights as others.
For the most part, the rock quotient of Etheridge’s persona is back in full force on a crunchy “Giant”, a tune that veers from an AC/DC-like riff into a meaty, Southern rock riff. It’s also comparable to “I Could’ve Been You” from her Your Little Secret disc. But a funky “Come on out Tonight” is a tune perhaps best left for bands like the Spin Doctors. Nonetheless, the Petty-like “Kiss Me” quickly atones for the previous miscue. On the whole, Etheridge seems to be back circa Yes I Am, which is a good thing for fans and newcomers.
// Notes from the Road
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