Melissa Etheridge

Island Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


At one point in her career, Melissa Etheridge was the embodiment of acoustic rock. She knew how to take her 12-string guitar and make it sing louder and clearer than any Stratocaster ever could, thanks to her combination of excellent songwriting and musical prowess.

But something happened along the way. Etheridge finally tasted the fruits of success on her fourth album, Yes I Am, an album that, at least for me, marked the start of a creative decline for Etheridge. Her music began to lose some of the edge that it had (as well as some of the ambiguity of the songs' messages, thanks to Etheridge coming out in 1993). Where Yes I Am was a step down from Never Enough in my eyes, Your Little Secret was a step down from Yes I Am.

Now, after an extended break where Etheridge and her partner have taken time to start a family, she returns to the bins with Breakdown, a disc that dares to have Etheridge walk in a new path - that of the middle-of-the-road songstress. Unfortunately, a lot of her power is lost at the same time, and this album breaks no new ground for her.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The first single, "Angels Would Fall," is symbolic of the musical change that Etheridge has gone through. Following the lines of singles like "Nowhere To Go," Etheridge keeps more of a mellow profile on this song, daring only to put her vocals through a workout in the choruses. It's not a bad effort, but especially if one has followed Etheridge since her recording career started in 1988, it smacks of what could have been.

In fact, rarely on Breakdown does Etheridge dip into the vocal power that she based her early career on. The title track has some hints of this, and "Scarecrow" (whose story is pretty well-known by now) has the most anger in it. Not surprisingly, this happens to be the best track on the album, though its subject matter might preclude it from making the cut as a single.

Unfortunately for Etheridge, the majority of Breakdown is so mellow that it almost induces sleep in the listener - especially the album's closing track, "Sleep". Other tracks that don't seem to live up to their initial potential include "Enough Of Me," "Truth Of The Heart" and "How Would I Know". And while I once complained that I preferred Etheridge being ambiguous about the subject matter of her songs (only because they didn't seem preachy or self-indulgent), she does tone things down a bit on tracks like "My Lover," though the tracks don't have the same kind of power as when Etheridge was a lonesome soul. (One track, "Mama I'm Strange," isn't exactly what you'd think it would be before listening to the album, but it also suffers from weaker songwriting.)

For the diehard Etheridge fans, there is an "expanded" edition of Breakdown, which happens to be the one I purchased. Of the three bonus tracks, both "Cherry Avenue" and "Beloved" seem to show a little more of the Etheridge the long-time fans know and love; the third track, "Touch And Go," is just as laissez-faire as the original release. (There is a multimedia portion to this disc, but I haven't had the time to go in and play with it.)

Etheridge is a much better songwriter and musician than the bulk of Breakdown suggests, and while I realize that music must change and evolve over time, I can't help but wish that Etheridge would re-capture some of the old fire and create another Brave And Crazy or Never Enough. While Breakdown isn't worse than Your Little Secret, both albums are on about the same level - and that's not a lot to smile about.

Rating: C

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2000 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.