APRIL ALBUM OF THE MONTH
Good music cheers up your day; great music has timely social relevance. At a time of national anxiety – with political division, economic uncertainty and a wellbeing timebomb that needs to be tackled – Melissa touches on topical issues but, unlike protest albums that meet anger with anger, this album presents love, unity and health as the tonic for making the world a better place. Where this album testifies, it is in the enduring power of music to be part of the solution.
For anyone that heard the grat track ‘Faded By Design’ and assumed they knew what was coming from Melissa’s 15th studio album, be prepared for a big surprise – the album opener will knock your head off!
The title track ‘The Medicine Show’ is daring, playful and brave – and it’s all the more wonderful for it. It’s the musical version of dragging your tired body into the bathroom for a power-shower – and one of those shock wake-me-ups. As a song, ‘The Medicine Show’ is unlike anything I’ve heard before on a Melissa Etheridge album but that’s exactly what makes it magical and exciting – it reminds us that she is still on her musical journey with new creative chapters yet to come. The song opens instantly, heavily and demands attention; it’s a visceral, direct, stadium-rocker. It has hints of ‘We Will Rock You’ about it and its beauty is in the fact it makes no apology whatsoever for what it is. It hits you in the face and within three minutes you know you’re in for something new and fresh with this fine album. I would have called this as the radio single for the album and I have a feeling it’s going to either open or close Melissa’s shows for years to come.
‘The Medicine Show’ is not just another album from Melissa Etheridge. She’s back with something to say and she has delivered her finest, most creative and rounded album since 1993’s ‘Yes I Am.’ One might call this karma given the anniversary European tour that has just finished.
Following the dramatic album opener, we then get into a trio of songs, any of which could be radio singles. ‘Wild And Lonely’ is a signature Melissa Etheridge classic. For fans of ‘Come To My Window’ and ‘No Souvenirs,’ this song is as good as anything from that rich vein of the catalogue – the seamless overlay of storytelling, emotion and melody meet sublimely, framed by empowering choruses. The guitar work on this song also casts a lens on Melissa’s fine development as a guitar player.
‘Shaking’ then follows. Heavy riffs, urgency in the vocals and a rallying intensity in the chorus: a song that probably captures the mood of public questioning in our leaders that is so apparent in both the US and UK at the moment. A song about ‘the now’. We need songs like this.
For ‘Woman Like You’ I sense a nod to The Beatles in the song’s structure. A wonderful composition that oozes character. It’s a relatively simple song – but as the Beatles taught us – simple done well is hard to beat.
For fans of Melissa’s love songs, you’re in for a treat with ‘I Know You’ – which stands as a ‘grown up’ love song. Beyond youthful songs about attraction, break-ups, cheating – this song has deep soul, capturing the truth, the power, the depth that comes from finding a true soul mate – and an enduring love that transcends beyond life’s everyday ups and downs. The song starts with a delicacy; less is more as the sentiments have a naked honesty. It’s careful control and restraint stands ‘I Know You’ as one of the finest love songs in Melissa’s catalogue. In the final section, the song explodes into life as the sentiments and musical truth rise to a natural peak. This song is an emotional journey, a song I am sure many fans will take to their hearts.
‘Human Chain’ reminds us that it’s hard to pigeon hole Melissa’s music. There’s rock, there’s country, but for anyone that’s experienced the ‘MEmphis’ album, there’s a whole lot of soul too! This song about the hope for healing – about the unity that defines the human condition – brings the soul, it brings the groove. It brings the life.
‘Love Will Live’ is a tail ender but one of my favourites on this fine new album. It’s a heavy rocker – but its bare and exposed. It has a primal edge to it and I have a feeling it’s going to become popular on my Friday show. A song that reminds us that, when she wants to, Melissa can rock out as hard as the best of them.
And then – onto the final song. No one does album closers better than Melissa – and with ‘The Medicine Show’ we are left with another emotional opus to make us pause, to think and to reflect after the music has ended. ‘Last Hello’ draws on the incredible strength and courage shown by the survivors of the Parkland school shooting: it brought tears to my eyes when I first heard it, which happened to be the day news was breaking on the horrific events in New Zealand. The song peaks mid-way through where a frail, yearning vocal line is met by percussive fireworks. It’s one of those moments where music becomes art – and marks ‘Last Hello’ as my choice track from this album. For anyone that has lost a loved one, this song captures the painful, final sadness in missing someone, yet there is also a pervasive and subtle beauty in the song, which celebrates life and the power to remember, to cherish life and to continue.
As a collection of songs ‘The Medicine Show’ represents the emphatic triumph of quality over fashion. In a fast-moving world, where talent TV shows encourage youngsters to crave fame – and where streaming sites risk devaluing music as little more than worthless soundbites – Melissa Etheridge yet again reminds us about the enduring importance of the guitar singer-songwriter. Specifically, the timeless value of original song-writing, the power of original storytelling to touch the heart – and the way music can give expression for the things in life we can’t always put into words ourselves.
Throughout this album, Melissa goes towards real issues but, significantly, she doesn’t preach. Her stories focus on inner strength and the power of individuals to take control and make the world a better place, one person at a time. And in troubled times, we need radical love. We need music to unite us and to fuel our belief in building a better world together. The music on this album speaks to ‘the now’, but it offers love, joy and strength as the answers. It’s music as a tonic – a medicine – for moving forward in troubled times; it’s uplifting, uniting and true – and in the times we live in, that’s just what the doctor ordered!
Melissa Etheridge’s album ‘The Medicine Show’ is released in the UK on 12 April via Concord Records.
To discover more about Melissa Etheridge, social media links, to pre-order the new album and for details on the forthcoming cruise, visit www.melissaetheridge.com
In the next few weeks I will be airing a 90-minute interview radio special with Melissa, from London, talking about the tracks on the new album. More details on date/time on my Twitter page @GuyB_rockshow in the next few weeks.