Hotel Paper, by Michelle Branch
Hotel Paper, released in 2003, was the second major-label album  released by Michelle Branch. At the time it was released I was a college student and had been a fan of her since her major-label debut, The Spirit Room. This album was, and remains, the sort of album that reflects my own melancholy state. As a whole, the album can be seen as a concept album and song cycle on a dysfunctional relationship. Yet, especially in looking back on it, one can get a sense of the sort of stress that Michelle was under in trying to follow up on her successful debut. One can see her asking herself if she is happy now, reflecting on the emptiness of fame, on the struggles to be respected and loved, and on the questions of whether her creativity would be stretched beyond the limit in writing songs on hotel paper while on the road. Fortunately for her and for us, she proved to have a lot more music left inside of her (even if her music label was not very good about releasing it ), and this album remains an enjoyable listen more than a decade after its release. Now for a track by track review:
Intro/Are You Happy Now?: A pleasant and whimsical, if somewhat old-fashioned introduction moves nearly seamlessly into a moody but beautiful song about alienated people that became one of the two hit singles of this album. The combination gloominess and fierceness makes this an excellent song, and one full of tension.
Find Your Way Back: This beautiful song, one of my favorites on this album, finds Michelle Branch in a somewhat meditative. The song again shows a tension between frustration between bitterness about a past that one is less than happy with and a recognition that being away from the past relationship has not been any better.
Empty Handed: A stripped-back song with some lovely instrumental touches, this is another song that reflects on the ruin of a past relationship. The moody strings add to the general melancholy and reflective nature of this song, which helps to contribute to the autumnal feel of the album as a whole. It is the sort of album track that shows considerable attention to help with the cohesion of the album as a whole.
Tuesday Morning: This song is a surprisingly sad look from Michelle Branch back on a one-night stand, a song that inspired a play of mine about similar circumstances. The song is a moving reflection on the way that our decisions show us who we are, and what sort of disastrous mistakes we can make in the desire to escape loneliness, without glorifying or minimizing it in away.
One Of These Days: My favorite song on the album, this melancholy but beautiful piano ballad expresses a familiar tension between the longing for love and intimacy and the feeling of alienation and separation and the deprivation of touch that I know painfully well. The song’s simultaneous longing and fear of intimacy is heartbreaking and something I feel quite often.
Love Me Like That (with Sheryl Crow): This song is another stripped back but passionate number that has a surprisingly prophetic country feel to it, all the more remarkable because at the time of this album’s release it was not clear that the artist was moving in that direction herself. The material of looking at a dysfunctional relationship reflects the rest of the songs on the album rather well.
Desperately: This song is pretty honest and open about its contents, with some straightforward acoustic guitar playing and lyrics about someone who desperately wants someone but finds it impossible to be in a relationship with them, where longing and frustration and the feeling of having missed one’s chance add to a sense of incompleteness.
Breathe: The second hit single from this album, this song is an upbeat song about struggling with a difficult relationship and trying to breathe and stay calm and avoid making unnecessary mistakes. The soaring chorus to this song is a pretty inspirational one, and this song is definitely among the standout tracks to this excellent album.
Where Are You Now?: This song looks at the emptiness of the touring life, where the narrator feels that it is often easier to be alone but where she is still searching for a loving relationship with someone she feels estranged from. As someone who shares her tension, the lyrics of this song, which face the despair of loneliness, is one that I feel very deeply.
Hotel Paper: Another standout song on this album, this song is a heartbreaking ode to a lack of communication with someone one is in love with but that one simply cannot be with. The combination between longing and loneliness is one that this song represents well, and one that grounds the album as a whole.
‘Til I Get Over You: A beautiful song about trying to get over someone, with some lovely French lyrics about pretending to be well, this is a lovely track that reflects the generally melancholy yearning the album has as a whole. It’s one of those songs for rainy days where one feels alone and rejected, which admittedly is more days than I would like.
It’s You: The album ends on a slow and sad note about love, with an outro that matches the intro in feeling old-fashioned. This is a sweet song, and a good way to close the album out on the same note that it spent most of its time in, wistful and melancholy longing.
As a whole, this album is quite formal in its tone, and it is a pleasing record for melancholy romanticists like myself. It is gratifying that the album was popular, though less gratifying that it has taken until 2017 for Michelle Branch to have another full-album solo release. It should not have taken nearly so long, but at least this album provided a transition between Michelle Branch’s initial period of success and her long period in the musical wilderness after having gone country.
 See, for example:
 See, for example: