You gotta have Skin

“Wish you were mine,” she sings in that intense cracked voice; the heartbreak is almost too painful to listen to on Melissa Etheridge’s new “break-up with my girlfriend” album.

She is in fact our first queer rock star to work out her love life publicly. Luckily the personal nature of this project works great for Etheridge the songwriter. Skin is a deep and mature statement from an artist whose life has grown into that big husky voice: Her music feels stronger, much deeper, now that it is so rooted in the real.

Gone is the Bryan Adams radio rock sound of her biggest hits like “Come To My Window.” Here we end up with a lot of acoustic guitar and smaller production details placed around her naked, wide open vocals.

The personal place these lyrics come from proves that when a singer/songwriter of Etheridge’s experience and smarts turns up the emotional heat you get a more satisfying blend of technique and raw truth.

“The Prison” is written like a classic folk tune: “Drove all night, just to drive all day but the walls of this prison still surround me and I can’t break away.” “Lover Please” is a real plea. “It’s Only Me” and “Goodnight” speak about the tough, single life: “Clean and sharp like a brand new knife.” And “I Want To Be In Love” holds hope for healing through a new romance. A centrepiece is the vulnerable “Please Forgive Me” where she wails about her “skin being so painfully new.”

Intense stuff.

Occasionally her radio overexposure works against the recording, such as on “Down To One,” which is really a well-crafted, ready-for-radio song that already sounds overly familiar: Its pop proves trite given the subject matter.

The feeling of being stuck in a room with a recently divorced person can get a little overwhelming at times. Certainly there is no respite from the subject matter, but that’s quibbling. The bravery Etheridge has shown on this release shows why, against the odds, she managed to break through the “dyke songwriter” stigma to reach stardom and carve a place for herself as a commercial success.

This look behind the bedroom doors as her much publicized relationship has ended gifts mainstream culture with a first peak at just how similar hetero and homo break-ups are: ugly, messy and hard.

Skin may be her finest hour musically, but it isn’t much fun, that’s for sure. Looking forward to her “Falling in love with a younger woman” album coming at you soon!

Skin.

Melissa Etheridge.

Island. $15.99.

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