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Melissa Etheridge

Island

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Melissa Etheridge is looking for a new love. And let’s hope that she finds one before her next record: Even after countless songs about heartbreak and loneliness have been welcomed into pop consciousness, Etheridge’s new album, Skin, promises to make even the most melancholy music fans say, “Enough already.” There’s something distasteful about listening to the heretofore tough rock ‘n’ roll chick move from the set-her-free self-confidence of “I’m the Only One” to the needy “I Want to Be in Love” and the self-doubting “Down to One”—especially when her broken heart has reduced her to writing lyrics such as “It’s not bad, this brand-new life/It’s clean and it’s sharp, like a brand-new knife” and “I got out of the kitchen, I couldn’t stand the heat.” The lead track, “Lover Please,” at least has a bit of Etheridge’s trademark hard-edged bluesiness to make the lament listenable—though there’s a laughable Framptone Talkbox moment that turns her “This one’s gonna hurt like hell” line into a Muppet-sounding uh-oh caution instead of the hardened wail it’s meant to be. As if that weren’t bad enough, background vocals on the life-after-love “Heal Me” are supplied by actors Laura Dern and Meg Ryan. Their chirpy “Heal me/Lift me”s are barely discernible, probably because they sound more like an irritating underserved kids’ chorus than road-tested backup singers—which, of course, they’re not. But even Etheridge’s loneliness shouldn’t prevent her from using a little discretion regarding the professional company she keeps.

—Tricia Olszewski