The Awakeningby Melissa Etheridge
At this stage of the game, after Melissa Etheridge's nearly 20 years in the big-time music biz, eight studio albums, chart-topping singles, endless videos, and live and greatest-hits packages (not to mention world tours), her fans are either going to go for it or they're not. The Awakening is likely not the kind of record to win a few thousand new fans over. Yet, given a particular life-changing circumstance or two and word of mouth, it might be. Musically, there isn't anything here that you haven't heard before from Etheridge. If you're a fan that's a great thing, right? (One need only remember that when 1995's Your Little Secret dropped, so did some people who had followed her from the beginning -- she won most of them back, but that slick set was the wrong track to take after the confessional and anthemic Yes I Am.) The Awakening is, according the artist, a concept record. Before you groan, this one is based on life experience, not solely ideas or opinions. For this singer and songwriter, that experience was cancer. The title of this recording is what she learned during her journey down that road and through convalescence, true, but it's also a straightforward look back and forward through a life -- her own. An autobiography can be boring and self-indulgent, especially in pop music, but it can also be an intimate and exciting look at an artist who has been guarded or protected by myth. The Awakening is both. It's interesting that while so many of these songs are peppered with faux-mystical approaches to spirituality, the album is also confessional and looks hard at itself, even if at times it seems cloying, self-indulgent, and preachy. There is plenty of straight talk about mistakes made, such as in "An Unexpected Rain" and in the opening statements about family in "California." Musically, The Awakening is not different from what Etheridge has done before. This is basically soft, grown-up folky rock; it's that adult contemporary thing she's come to wear so well for the last six years or so. She rocks less and spends more time tweaking the records she does make, but then she's a grown-up now and her fans appear to be aging along with her demographically. There is little hunger here, but there is more gratitude, along with observations about being content in life and love. That said, there is some sly humor in "Threesome," where she talks about not wanting one, but doesn't seem to mind looking at the damage people can do to one another while in them on late-night TV. (The sincerity in the statement of fidelity is obvious; the wicked irony is in the voyeurism.) The preachiness comes in tracks where the guitars get tangled up in the words -- in the message, so to speak -- as in an antiwar song that, while noble in intention, is clunky in its execution. The recurring theme in The Awakening is to see one's life for what it is before it slips away. That's done here to a near fault, but it's through a trial-by-fire set of experiences along with a rosy frame of the here and now. The hassles of the moment aren't expressed; rather, the songwriter is looking at all this from above. If there's not a lot new to write about Etheridge musically, that's fine too; she's found a sound that really works for her and communicates to her fans directly and simply, and gets those commonalities between them across. But it doesn't make for exciting rock music, and it doesn't necessarily speak to anyone who doesn't share these life or cultural experiences, either.
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Performance CreditsMelissa Etheridge Primary Artist,Guitar,Vocals
Mark Browne Bass
Fritz Lewak Percussion,Drums
Bernie Barlow Background Vocals
Philip Sayce Guitar,Background Vocals
Lily Wilson Background Vocals
Technical CreditsMelissa Etheridge Composer,Producer,Author
Brett Allen Guitar Techician
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I'm not sure what album "A Reviewer" was listening to, but it sure wasn't "The Awakening". Far from tedious, this CD is some of the best work Etheridge has put out in years and, easily, stands as the best album Etheridge has ever made. The musical style of songs range from vintage Etheridge to rock-a-billy to plain rock and roll with wailing guitar rifts no two songs sound completely alike yet Etheridge is there at the heart of each one. The CD is a concept album which takes us from Etheridge's journey out to California to become a rock star, as well as, from her quasi-atheism to the spiritual awakening she experienced after being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. "California" includes, not only, Etheridge's hopes and dreams for the future, but her family's attitudes: "Only a few shall get, but everyone shall need." In "An Unexpected Rain, Etheridge talks about one of her first relationships after arriving in LA, and reveals to the listener that the hurt she caused her ex-lover, in part, lead to that person's attempted suicide. Etheridge has never been this revealing of her personal life. Both "California" and "An Unexpected Rain" talk about events that happened in the 80's and Etheridge intentionally wrote the songs to sound like the music she was making back in the late 80's and early 90's, which fits wonderfully in a "concept album". "Message to Myself" is a bouncy pop tune. "Map of the Stars" is about the down-side of celebrity. "Threesome, despite that the title might lead you to think, is all about monogamy, faithfulness, and family values wrapped up in a twangy rock-a-billy sound. "I've Loved You Before" is a romantic love song wrapped in the idea of reincarnation. "Kingdom of Heaven" is an emotionally powerful song about the darkness religion can bring when it's teachings become perverted and twisted. "Open Your Mind" is all about not being afraid to expand your emotional, spiritual, and intellectual horizons and trusting that you will find answers to the big questions. "The Universe Listened" seems to be about Etheridge's new-found belief that there is more to this reality than "atoms and space" and that the universe does, literally, listen and respond to us. Closing the CD are "Imagine That", which is about the best protest song I've heard in a long time, and "What Happens Tomorrow" is as much a song about hope as it is revealing of Etheridge's urgency for people to, literally, wake up to what is happening around them and become the change they wish to see. All these songs are framed by suprising short songs "less than a minute" that seem to act as transitions or interludes in the album. Rolling Stone Magazine's review was very correct in stating that this CD represents growth in Etheridge's ability as a songwriter and is a sign of her musical maturity. Anyone who has followed Etheridge's career and can judge her work fairly will have to admit that some of that work has been a stunning burst of creativity while some has left the listener wondering if she had hit the end of the road, creatively. For me this CD is a new career high for Etheridge and easily blows away Yes I Am, although, that album is still right there at the top. If you are an Etheridge fan this CD is a must have, if you have been turned off by Etheridge's work in the past give this CD a shot, you will be pleasantly surprised.
Let me first say that every album by Etheridge has coincided with some personal experience of my own. When I heard she had a new album I wondered if I would feel the same attachment - I certainly did. It is a concept album and really needs to be listened to stright through, since the songs blend into each other - with several vignettes mixed in to give it scope. I begins much like any of her albums, but with new outlooks and even a comic turn (Threesome). Then she mastefully engages the listener into an awakening of their own with the second half of the album. She tackles love, fear, depression and with those touches on faith, religion, politics and peace. The last three songs are actually the most eye opening, in terms of her artistic style and truthful, almost country take on powerful topics. In the end you feel uplifted and overwhelmed with wanting to look at yourself and try to engage your life more truthfully. This album is by far one of her strongest and made me appreciate music and poetry, much like Paul Simon's SURPRISE last year.
I have been a Melissa Ethridge fan for years. I can't tell you how disappointed I was in this CD. Every song sounds just like the one before. The one exception is "Threesome". When I heard it, I thought I was listening to Shania Twain. (That's NOT a good thing.) When the rest of us want to whine for an hour or so, we have to go to a shrink and pay a lot of money. Melissa Ethride lets us pay for her therapy. I want my money back!!!