If you are a frequent listener to the PSVG Podcast (and if you are not, get on that) you will know the love I (and Coach Mo) have for Michelle Branch is significant. Potentially problematic. Either way, my long awaited dreams of a new album from Meech have finally come true as Hopeless Romantic was released to the world on April 7, 2017. Did it live up to my expectations? No. It exceeded them.
First, it is important you know this is not some non-biased album critic review. I am a huge fan of Branch and have been following her career since the beginning. She is the only celebrity I have had the chance to meet that I turned down because I was too nervous. The personalized autographed CD of hers is one of the few possessions of mine I have no intention of getting rid of. I tell you all of this to be transparent, but keep in mind this album is not the pop-rock albums we have seen in the past (The Spirit Room, Hotel Paper) nor is there much connection to her time in The Wreckers. If you know any tracks from the smaller projects (Everything Comes and Goes EP or Loud Music) you will see the roots of Hopeless Romantic.
The album starts with Best You Ever, one of the singles released prior to the album coming out, and makes a profound statement about the journey we are about to take. Gone is the energetic pop-rock of past hits such as Everywhere, All You Wanted, and Breathe. In its place, we have a chill, almost alt-rock vibe that could be found on a pop, adult contemporary, alt rock/indie, or college radio station and feel equally at home on all of them. A song that could be as much about a past lover as it could be about her frustrations with a record company for past albums not being released (I’ve been wondering why / I tried so hard to win your love / I’m giving up / I don’t wanna waste any more time / So goodbye) Best You Ever shows us that though the sound may have changed, Branch is still writing about the things she knows and giving us a glimpse into what she has been up to the last 10 years. Other standouts out on the album for me include You’re Good, Knock Yourself Out, Temporary Feeling, & Not a Love Song.
A lot of to-dos has been made about the new sound Branch has in this album, and folks wondering how much influence Producer Patrick Carney (of The Black Keys) has had on the tone of the album. I was going to read a bunch of interviews and give you a summary of what Branch has said about it, but often the best music is deeply personal to the performer and the listener. So I want to share my perspective on the “new” sound. When The Spirit Room was released back in 2001, Branch was 18 and recording songs she had written when she was as young as 14. I am not sure what everyone else was doing at that age, but I know I was not writing my own songs, recording albums, and going on tour. No matter the lyrics, most of the songs have, energetic, youthful, maybe even hopeful, pop music vibe surrounding them. This was the late 90s and early 2000s, reflective of my youth experience, and was a big part of why I became such a fan. Hotel Paper, her last pop album, released in 2003, and while there was some edge and crunchy guitars, overall the album maintained the vibe of her first album.
Fast forward to 2017. When I think about everything that has happened in the last 15 years, I know I have changed as a person. I imagine Michelle Branch has changed as a person. While lyrically she addresses many of the same topics she did on those early albums, there is another layer of depth and understanding to her lyrics. The hopeful yearning of youth is replaced with a raw realism of past experiences along with the bumps and bruises of life. Not surprisingly, the music has evolved along with her lyrics and life experiences. To tie this to video games (we are a gaming blog after all) we knock games for not changing or evolving enough, but when it comes to music, people tend to get frustrated when their favorite musicians evolve and change. If you are not a fan of this new Michelle Branch, those classic albums still exist.
If you are looking for a revamped, updated, and more mature sound from a past pop artist, Hopeless Romantic will fit the bill. If you want the traditional pop sounds of Branch’s past, you will want to stick with past albums, but I genuinely think you will be missing out. I have listened to the album almost every day since release, and I don’t anticipate the rotation to change much for some time. Hopefully, I will see you this summer when Branch hits the road on tour!