Michelle Branch captured the hearts of many upon her entry in the height of the teen pop craze. At the perfect time she came as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, etc. were pulling in massive sales.Her first hit "Everywhere" was played so often that you'd had to have lived somewhere very secluded from the rest of existance not to have heard it at some point. However, she did come as a somewhat fresh breath of air in a heap of bubble-gum pop filth. A unique voice, the ability to play an instrument besides her voice, and the almost unheard of quality of actually writing most of her music. Her debut album "The Spirit Room" was a very catchy, and fairly decent album that sold millions of copies.
Thus enters Hotel Paper, the follow up to her multi-platinum success. Michelle was a bit more mature and a bit more experienced while writing this album, and it's easy to tell. The lyrics a little deeper, a little more personal. Her voice still unique, but more defined. Her guitar parts, while not entirely difficult, have improved. But after a rather long dry spell from her debut, I expected a little more from an artist I really feel shows a lot of promise, despite her mainstream status.
The album starts out with a short, 11 second intro that leads straight into the first and hit single "Are You Happy Now". You can right away tell she still has an edgy side, and her lyrics are deeper as she sings "Now, don't just walk away, pretending everything's ok and you don't care about me." It's undoubtedly a very catchy song with a powerfully sung chorus that will linger in your head days after hearing it. Very well could be one of the greatest songs she has written to date.
"Find Your Way Back", and "Empty Handed" are two very worthy following tracks to "Are You Happy Now?" This definately gets me psyched for the rest of the album. They are both solidly written, and Branch's personal favorite on the album, "Empty Handed"...definately stands out. A very well written, personal pop song. Not quite as catchy as some of her songs out there, but definately has the potential to get stuck in many heads.
The album dies down a bit with the cheesy and slow "Tuesday Morning" and the piano driven "One of These Days". Nothing particular stands out about the two tracks, and they tend do get boring and become background noise when listening to them.
"Love Me Like That" is a country sounding pop song that features Sheryl Crowe on vocals. It's a very well written song and is very different than anything she has done before. Actually sounds somewhat out of place on the album. Crowe's vocals complement Branch's very nicely, and the dual vocals that pick up later on in the track are very well done. Nice track.
Then comes "Desperately", a remake of an older song she had before she was signed to a major label. Being one that has heard the original version, which was very raw and truly one of my favorite tracks from her...this one comes off a but over polished and dull. A good song for someone who hasn't heard the original, but this one was definately overproduced.
"Breathe" comes in, and I'm sure a lot of people have heard this one. Another single from the album, and is undeniably catchy. So more deeper than normal lyrics for the genre. A loud chorus, another one that will certainly get caught in many heads as well. She knows how to write a catchy song, that is for certain.
As for "Where Are you Now", it's a bit of filler for you, and you have to come to expect that in a pop album. Still by no means a bad song, just not some of her best work.
"Hotel Paper" comes in, and this is her most personal song to date. It's about life on the road and songwriting on the road, hence the name "Hotel Paper". This is probably my favorite track on the album. The guitar is very catchy and it makes for a very beautiful ballad. Her voice shines majestically here and after listening the overall feel of the song lingers with you for awhile. Truly a great song.
The album closes with another great single "Til' I Get Over You", and the sappy but beautiful "It's You", a short but powerful and raw song. Just her solid voice and acoustic guitar with a bit of keyboard in the background... a great closer to the album. It's good to end it on that note, and made me actually look forward to how much she might mature for the next album.
Michelle Branch continues to show promise, and perhaps someday she can be talked about in the same sentence as Sheryl Crowe, Tori Amos, etc. if she can fulfill what she is capable of doing. Only time will tell.
Are You Happy Now?
Finding My Way Back
Love Me Like That