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Melissa Etheridge has, over the course of eight albums, transformed herself from an issues-oriented feminist folkie to a love-song-slinging blues rocker.


On the heavily acoustic Melissa Etheridge, her songs are less about lust than loss, running the gamut from Why don’t you want me? to You used to want me, why don’t you want me now? (A deluxe 2003 reissue augments the original album with such fans-only fare as demos and live recordings.) With the overly ambitious Brave and Crazy, she leavens the spurned-lover stuff with attempts at poetry, resulting in such cringe-worthy choruses as “Shame, shame but I love your name/And the way you make the buffalo roam.” Ouch. Never Enough toughens her sound slightly, but it’s not until Yes I Am that Etheridge finds her formula. With the bluesy grind of “Come to My Window,” Etheridge found not only a hard-rock approach suited to her big, bluesy voice, but also a subject — sexual desire — to which everyone could relate.

Your Little Secret expands on that breakthrough, bringing an almost Springsteenian majesty to some of the songs. Even better, she truly understands the allure of illicit desire, and through the likes of “Such an Unusual Kiss” and “I Want to Come Over” makes it very easy to see the good side of bad love. Breakdown tends to prefer heartbreak melodrama to lubricious longing, which isn’t as much fun but is nearly as entertaining. “Angels Would Fall” may try to be the pop equivalent of The Thorn Birds as Etheridge’s protagonist longs to lead a devout lover off the prayerful path, but it serves up its soapy saga with enough musical oomph to make the lyrical excesses forgivable.

The rough and rambunctious Skin is less ambitious and much more uneven, but when it works — as on the rousing “I Want to Be in Love” — it shows that Etheridge has lost none of her bite. A pity, then, that Lucky keeps coming up boxcars. While there’s plenty of desire on display in the lyrics, the music itself seems neither hungry nor horny, while “Tuesday Morning,” dedicated to gay 9/11 victim Mark Bingham, seems slightly gratuitous in comparison with songs such as Neil Young’s “Let’s Roll.” (J.D. CONSIDINE)

From 2004’s The New Rolling Stone Album Guide


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