Melissa Etheridge

The most impressive thing about this exciting second album is that Etheridge, as hard as she rocks and as angry as many of her songs get, always keeps a strong melodic presence in her singing. This may mean that, for better or worse, she'll never generate the emotional sort of following that swarmed to the founding mother of blues rock, Janis Joplin—whose voice often disintegrated into a caterwauling catharsis that made her seem pitifully in need of affection. But in terms of musicianship alone, Etheridge certainly proves herewith that she belongs among the major figures of the record business—her talents and tastes may well help define the music of her generation.

Her composing adds a dimension to that talent. She wrote all the songs on the album (with an assist from bassist Kevin McCormick on one tune), and they constitute an eloquent tribute to the survival instinct in the face of relentless frustration and bitterness: "Morning's hard, coffee's cold/Pretending that the days mean more than getting old"; "I'll give you my time and money/I'll give you somewhere to sleep/But don't ask me for my heart and soul/My love is only skin-deep"; "All I want is just a little peace of mind/But the angels won't have it."

Helping Etheridge address these kinds of notions with sufficient vehemence is her backup band—McCormick, drummer Mauricio Fritz Lewak and guitarist Bernie Larsen. Sounding more aggressive than they did on Etheridge's 1988 debut album, they help her channel the surges of musical energy that make this such an intensely focused production. Yet Etheridge, McCormick and Niko Bolas, who produced, never let her voice get overrun, even in such an instrumental environment as the jam ending to "Royal Station 4/16."

A little comic relief might not hurt Etheridge. There seems to be a sly side to her lurking under the surface, but the closest she comes to humor is singing, in the title track, "This desire's too much/It's rented out my brain/It's showing previews of your body/Driving me insane." Most of her lyrics tend to make romance seem more ominous and burdensome than joyful, a sentiment that, if carried to its logical conclusion, would obliterate pop music as we know it and signal the return of the polka and the march.

Etheridge isn't the only pop musician to take the whole business too seriously though—there are never enough Cole Porters around. And her music has a distinctive integrity, a style that affects the head and heart as well as the ear. She is a singer who has a real voice in more ways than one. (Island)

  • Contributors:
  • Ralph Novak,
  • David Grogan,
  • Michael Small,
  • David Hiltbrand,
  • Andrew Abrahams.