Outdated music for old souls
Melissa Etheridge is an American singer-songwriter and environmental activist. She has been consistently releasing music for over thirty years. She broke into the mainstream in 1993 with her hit single “Come to My Window,” and in 2006 ran her tour vehicles on biodiesel. The Medicine Show is her fifteenth studio album.
Melissa Etheridge makes poppy folk-rock, and she sticks with it on The Medicine Show. It’s the anthemic everyman rock music that became mega-successful in the AOR era. Acoustic guitar is the main instrument, with bass and drums also present. Etheridge’s low-pitched, husky voice is what really separates her from other female singer-songwriters. The album’s main issue is its sound. The poppy folk-rock was first popularized in the late sixties and early seventies, and Etheridge does nothing to update or modernize her sound on The Medicine Show. While The Medicine Show is not bad, its use of an extremely outdated genre of pop rock renders the album obsolete in 2019.
The album starts off guns a-blazing with the title track. Etheridge snarls like a lioness, and guitars are blaring away. Hand-claps and stomps form the baseline of a beat that sounds like Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” In the lyrics, Etheridge invites the listener to “mama’s farm” to get “a little remedy.” On the hook, Etheridge interpolates the “E-I-E-I-O” from the children’s song “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” While the image of her stroking her chin then nodding as she writes “E-I-E-I-O” into her lyrics notebook is amusing, the execution is rather inventive and works well with the song. It is one of the few moments of creativity on the album.
The vocals and especially the lyrics negatively impact the music. Etheridge’s voice is strong but in a generically good way. She sings well and asserts her presence. Moreover, age adds a layer of gravity to her words, especially on the song “Woman Like You.” However, she does not emote in a way that makes her pain feel interesting. Also, her words are full of lyrical clichés that don’t mean anything anymore, like “the highway,” “falling,” “stars in the sky,” “tears” and so on. Without interesting lyrics, the music feels aimless, despite the instrumentation being decently dramatic and dynamic.
People who were already fans of Melissa Etheridge will probably enjoy this album. Left-leaning boomers can probably get a kick out of the album, too. For most other people, this album is a retreading a very old sound–nothing more and nothing less.