Never Enough

Melissa Etheridge

Island Records, 1992

http://www.melissaetheridge.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/05/1997

It is an album that makes me happy, it is an album that scares me, it is an album that angers me.

Not many albums make me feel such a vast range of emotions. Melissa Etheridge's 1991 release Never Enough is one of them. It makes me happy because I think it is the best thing she has ever released, scared because of the stark, semi-autobiographical picture she seems to paint - and angry because Island Records fucked up the marketing of this record so badly.

This album was supposed to be Etheridge's sly message of coming out. She had hinted to a crowd at Georgia's "Rhythmfest" that she considered naming the album after one of the songs she premiered, "Yes I Am," but thought that would be saying "too much." I have the bootleg tape if there are any doubts - she also does a kick-ass cover of Big Brother & The Holding Company's "Piece Of My Heart," which also contained some gay overtones. (For the record: I was "informed" about her sexuality in 1989, and I could care less, then or now - it's her life, her choice, and it's not mine, nor anyone else's, to question.)

Never Enough opens with "Ain't It Heavy," a song which finds the heroine of our story (one can only guess it's Etheridge - there's never been proof the album is autobiographical) leading a devil-may-care life who has been "feelin' kinda loose since I turned 17." It's a solid rocker, and one which won her a long-deserved Grammy award.

The mood begins to change on "2001," a song which gives Etheridge's music an industrial slant, and also gives us the first hint that things may not be all rosy for our heroine. She seems to be in a state of numbness - "Wake me up when we hit 2001" - and laments her sister, the victim of a "social suicide." The fears grow stronger on "Dance Without Sleeping," which confirms that the storyteller is hiding something in her past - though what, we don't know. But she makes a major admission: "With all my shields and protection / It's only me I deceive."

Enter "Place Your Hand," a song which caused a then-friend to call me at damn near 1:30 in the morning in hysterics - something in it freaked her out real bad. It is the first message we get that our heroine was the victim of some kind of sexual abuse. The addition of cello on this track makes it even more haunting - and was sorely missed in its live performances. With the re-emergence of the demon, the "singer" (sorry, but it gets tiring to keep typing "our heroine") enters into a hasty, physical romance on "Must Be Crazy For Me." One thing which has always left me wondering on this is a spoken line by Etheridge after the music has faded out: "I didn't say it... I didn't... I meant it, don't you know I meant it?" I'm at a loss to explain this one.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The second half of Never Enough keeps up the tale, indicating the physical side of the relationship is at its peak on "Meet Me In The Back," a song which I have never really cared for. But the most powerful moment is on "The Boy Feels Strange," which almost seems like a tale of what happens when a person questioning their sexuality tells someone they really trust. It is a tale of confusion, and it seems like there is some betrayal felt. Having once been told by a girl I was then interested in that she was a lesbian, I speak from first-hand knowledge. For the singer, the relationship is called into serious question.

But it seems that a resolution is reached with "Keep It Precious," where her former lover helps her through the tough times - now as a friend. (I can't say most people would do the same - but again from first-hand experience, I can proudly say I didn't let the admission I was given kill a friendship.) The starkness of "The Letting Go," featuring only Etheridge on piano and vocals, has our heroine finally confronting the demons of her past - and forgiving. Never Enough closes with "It's For You," which leaves us with some ambiguity about the singer's future: have they moved on to start anew? Are they still working things out? Are they saying they're not quite ready for a relationship of any kind? ("I'm not with my lover / It's not just another broken heart.")

Now, I should admit that having met and interviewed Etheridge only once - and that happened back in 1990 - I have no special knowledge of her life or any circumstances that went into the writing of Never Enough. But the way all ten songs intertwine seems eerie, and can't just be happenstance. My guess: Etheridge is telling, in some way, her life story - maybe the demons she's faced about confronting whether to admit she was gay. Unless Etheridge or someone close to her is reading this review and wishes to add to my thoughts, I guess we'll never know.

So how can I feel happy about this album? Easy - with one real exception, Never Enough was - and still is - Etheridge's best work. Her singing is raw emotion, and you can hear her pour her soul into her guitar and piano work. This is something that only comes around once in a career.

And this is where my anger comes in. When Never Enough first hit the store bins, Island Records was pushing the single "Ain't It Heavy" on rock radio. Problem was, there was no corresponding single to go along with this (promo CD-single, which I picked up for $4, excepted) - and until "2001" was released four months later, there was no single. "2001," as good of a track as it was, was a piss-poor choice for a first single to hit the stores - it was hardly a true picture of the music Etheridge was playing at the time. I even called my contact at Polygram and asked them to ask New York what in the hell they were doing.

If it had been up to me, the lead track would have been "Dance Without Sleeping," a haunting but beautiful track that would have fit on album-rock and AOR stations. Unfortunately, I wasn't in charge. ("Dance Without Sleeping" was eventually released, and did make a dent on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary charts - too bad the album was commercially dead by then.) In the grand game of record industry football, Island fumbled the ball on their own goal line.

Fans of Etheridge's may violently disagree with my interpretation of the songs, Polygram may no longer wish to service me after I've run them into the ground, Melissa herself may never read my words - but nothing changes my mind that Never Enough is the one Etheridge album that should be in everyone's collections.

Rating: A-

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© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Island Records, and is used for informational purposes only.