Melissa Etheridge’s sunny sing-a-long, “Message to Myself,” is a poppy piece of pure confection lit up by a giddy guitar melody and a self-love memo. It’s a testament to her peaceful position – something the raspy rocker seemingly lacked while battling the “blackness in my chest.”
The real message on “The Awakening,” though, isn’t one dedicated only to the lesbian icon. Nor one packaged neatly into a radio-ready sound, much like primo love-heavy predecessor “Lucky.”
Here, on her ninth studio album, Etheridge examines the socio-political state of America from the war overseas (“Imagine That”), to the finger-crossing thought of electing a female president (“What Happens Tomorrow”), to problematic hooha-exposing Hollywood starlets (“Map of the Stars”).
Whether the Matthew Shepard dedication (“Scarecrow”) or theme song to Al Gore’s global warming documentary (“I Need to Wake Up”), which scored her an Academy Award, the matriarchal music-maker has constantly used her cutting chops and preeminent guitar skills as a platform for complex issues. Though hooks aren’t as heavy as on “Lucky,” “The Awakening” is a get-up and get-out declaration from an artist who wears more titles than a Valley Girl.
The concept album, which dances back to Etheridge’s roots and fast-forwards to the future, is chock-full of politically charged eye-openers. She caps off the cohesive 16-track disc, appropriately filled with several interludes, with a look ahead on “What Happens Tomorrow.” Like most of “The Awakening,” it’s a relatively mellow mix of drums and guitar that swells into an intense soul-stirrer mid-song as her voice escalates into a meaty growl delivering a fierce chant about truth.
The seven-minute bluesy “An Unexpected Rain” eases into some electric guitar solos but, halfway through, erupts into a rousing drum-laden rocker, while “California” highlights Etheridge’s long-winded runs, where she traces her move West.
Mid-set, Etheridge manages to shake up the seriousness with a countrified rocker, “Threesome,” where she spills a different kind of eye-opening tidbit: Yep, she’s had them. But, uh, never again. Sorry, ladies.