On her fifth album, Melissa Etheridge mixed her primary musical influences--a lot of Bruce Springsteen, some Led Zeppelin, a little U2--with a set of directed love lyrics--a lot of "you," some "I," a little "they"--that seemed to revolve around a romantic triangle. Etheridge's emotional concerns were specifically same sex-oriented, not so much because she flaunted her lesbianism as because of the way she thought about sex and relationships. Her lyrics were full of references to exchanges of identities between lovers: "I really like you, baby / I want to be you"; "Please let me into your eyes"; and "Spend the night inside of my skin" in a song called, "I Could Have Been You." This lyrical focus was the point of distinction in Etheridge's songs, which otherwise came off as generic Americana rock, full of small-town imagery--jeans, t-shirts, tattoos, Wal-Mart--that she failed to valorize as Springsteen did. The other distinguishing characteristic, as it was in all her albums, was Etheridge's impassioned performing style--she may not have had a lot to say or much craft in saying it, but she wanted you to know she really meant it. One is tempted to say that listeners may have had enough of that aggressive posture by this point, since, surprisingly, Your Little Secret was an initial commercial disappointment after the career breakthrough of the multi-million-selling Yes I Am. (Maybe the album rocked a little too hard for the VH1 crowd that had bought Yes I Am after its videos entered saturation rotation. The decline of AOR radio also may have been a factor.) In fact, though, the album probably suffered due because it arrived right on the heels of the belated breakthrough of Yes I Am, which turned into a smash in 1995 after having been released in September 1993. Island would have been wiser to withhold the followup for six months. Over the longer term, however, Etheridge's challenge would be to grow as a writer, now that incessant touring and a string of good-but-not-great albums finally had brought her to the platinum threshhold. Your Little Secret left the question about such growth open.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann