A mirthful turnaround from the soul-searching breakup record Skin, Melissa Etheridge's Lucky is a breezy celebration of new romance. But it also revels in the easy freedom of making music unburdened by the itchy yoke of having something to prove. Eight albums and numerous accolades in, Etheridge finally seems comfortable in her skin. She's willing to play the record company game, juicing some tracks with sound-alike electronic programming and cutting an obvious play for Hot AC hit status in the sappy lead single "Breathe," a track cribbed from modern rock also-rans Greenwheel by Etheridge producer John Shanks. But despite Lucky's glossy, easily digestible tendencies, it still burns bright with the usual Etheridge fervor. Her love life has been common knowledge for quite a while, but Lucky might be her most unflinchingly honest record yet. Her chrome-plated heart is finally, fully out in the open -- she's jazzed up about her new lady, and isn't afraid to sing about it. There's the challenging, brazen rock of "Come Out Tonight" ("Does your mama know who you're hangin' around/A souped up punk in a rock & roll gown, small town"), as well as "Kiss Me"'s come-hither slink, which is sexy at its highest volume. But as much as she still loves the unabashed, beer-soaked rocker, Etheridge's softer moments have continued to mature. "This Moment" is one place where the album's touches of synth work beautifully, building a romantic universe inside the chorus' fleeting passage of time. "Meet Me in the Dark" and the fabulous "Mercy" are even more personal, the latter employing accompanying vocalist Bernie Barlow to establish the dialog between the aging, wanting Etheridge and her vibrant new gal. Woah. Is it getting hot in here? But it's that directness that keeps the album and Etheridge herself vital after all the production niceties and mainstream curlicues have fallen away. Lucky's best stretch might be at its midpoint, "Secret Agent" and "Will You Still Love Me." The two tracks seamlessly blend each side of Melissa Etheridge -- the bawdy rocker, the heartfelt searcher, and the talented songwriter -- and prove that, in just her jacket and jeans, she can make a hit record for the mainstream that's as personal as a love letter.
by Johnny Loftus