Melissa Etheridge

Fearless Love

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Somewhere along the way, Melissa Etheridge shook off her Midwestern roots and decided that she was an artist with a capital A, turning out nothing but somnolent somber songs. Sobriety made perfect sense when Etheridge was coming out of the closet or surviving cancer, but when it's applied to a record that's merely a collection of songs, as it is on 2010's Fearless Love, the results are stultifying. Etheridge doesn't avoid big themes here -- she strikes back at Carrie Prejean's anti-gay marriage stance on "Miss California" and supports Obama on "We Are the Ones," both playing like delayed hangovers, their tardiness accentuating the slightness of Fearless Love. Slightness would be fine, even welcome, if Etheridge weren't compelled to produce every song as a stadium-busting anthem, an unholy combination of Springsteen, U2, and Coldplay stripped of any sense of majesty, hamstrung by Etheridge's dogged sincerity and literal mind. Perhaps if this production were scaled back a notch or two, Fearless Love wouldn't feel quite so oppressive, but its oversized sound fits Etheridge's sense of self: she's boxed herself into a corner where she only makes music that sounds important…whether it actually is important winds up being beside the point.

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