Hopeless Romantic, by Michelle Branch
I’m a big fan of Michelle Branch , and have followed her since she broke into the pop world as a young woman with her major label debut The Spirit Room, which exploded into the pop world going multi-platinum and spawning three top 40 singles. After a long hiatus–her last full-length solo album came out when I was an undergraduate in college–recently she released an indy album called Hopeless Romantic. I didn’t go into this listening experience blind, as I had heard the promo singles for three of the album’s songs, the title track, “Best You Ever,” and “Fault Line,” all of which are wonderful songs that are well worthy of radio play–they could possibly find a home on Adult Rock or AAA or even Adult contemporary. I came into this album with high expectations, and those expectations were definitely met–this is a solid album that ought to please those fans who have stuck with her, and even win a few ones who might have forgotten about her over the past few years. A track-by-track review follows:
Best You Ever: A gloomy and moody track with haunting vocals, this song is a powerful beginning to the album and worthy hit on adult radio. A kiss-off of sorts, this song shows Branch wishing to be remembered by a former lover, and also for his own future happiness.
You’re Good: This is a song that could have been written by a lovesick teenager, but given the fact that Michelle Branch is a single mother in her 30’s, it comes off as being written by a passionate and hopeless romantic of an awkward age. The good spoken of here is not a moral good, but that should be fairly obvious. This song has the goods to be a mid-tempo single if the album goes that deep in hits.
Fault Line: Another fairly obvious choice of a potential single, this song features sweet and breathy vocals in the verses along with a catchy and hooky chorus. A thoughtful take on a dysfunctional relationship, this song has the weight of someone who has lived the sort of material she sings about, with enough subtle production details to fit right on a Lorde album.
Heartbreak Now: A sad and reflective song, this song sounds like the lovechild between the singer-songwriter tradition of 1970’s and contemporary production values, and it’s a good match, the sort of song that could have ruled the radio during the earlier part of Michelle Branch’s career. It shows her in fine form, writing about the wreckage of relationships as she finds herself yearning for love.
Hopeless Romantic: This song has the same sort of feel of Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams,” only with a bit more melancholy, mining the territory of someone who is involved in a relationship that they know will end badly, that will cost sleep and peace of mind, for temporary pleasure. The narrator–and presumably singer–are self-aware but tragically unable to resist temptation.
Living A Lie: With odd and quirky instrumentation, this song is surprisingly upbeat, which is a welcome change of pace given the general melancholy tone of most of the album so far. If it doesn’t sound like an obvious single, it is a pleasing album track that would likely inspire plenty of singing along during concerts.
Knock Yourself Out: This song has a certain world-weariness, and looks towards the open road and the new beginnings after failure and unhappiness. This plaintive song could have fit well on either The Spirit Room or Hotel Paper, showing the author’s sense of sadness and longing remain powerful even after so many years out of the limelight, and the chorus towards at the end adds a sense of inspiration to what could easily have been an extremely gloomy tune.
Temporary Feeling: A fairly sparse song, this album track shows another recognition of the temporary nature of the feelings that the narrator/singer experiences with someone she has to let go. It shows a reckless pursuit of physical attraction despite the knowledge that nothing lasting will result from it–consider a prequel to “Tuesday Morning.”
Carry Me Home: A somewhat nostalgic look, this song has a soft verse and a somewhat loud pre-chorus and chorus, and builds up to the narrator wanting her partner to carry her home, expressing that she thinks she loves him but admits that she is pretty ignorant about such matters. It’s a pleasant song that goes easy on the ears.
Not A Love Song: A hooky song, this looks at two people self-medicating with alcohol over the wreckage of a relationship. Given that the singer complains that she wasted her youth on this guy, it is likely she is singing a non-love song for her ex-husband, upset that so much time was wasted on something that wasn’t going to work. This is catchy enough it could be a single as an anti-love song.
Last Night: This song is probably as gloomy and desperate as it was meant to sound, as the narrator/singer wants to make love like it’s the last time, as the end of the relationship is near, and she wants to make it last before it burns out. This is yet another song on this album that shows the desolation of feeling longing in a world without lasting love and intimacy.
Bad Side: A somewhat grooving song with quirky instrumentation, this song has some complicated lyrics and vocalizing. An upbeat song, this shows the singer/narrator wrestling with wrong and right and the lure of seeing how two damaged people connect together because of their shared longings for love and intimacy despite their guilt.
Shadow: This lovely mid-tempo song is an encouragement to not be afraid of the night. The sentiment is a good one, where the narrator/singer is trying to encourage someone to understand that sometimes one can’t find all the answers, but one can find love with a worthy woman. It’s a sentiment I can appreciate.
City: A song about flight and the desire to escape wreckage and start over, this song ends the album on a notable thematic point, where the author has some understanding of her own tendency to flee from unpleasant reality. Rather than an ending, this song is more like a new beginning that seems to point towards future happiness, and there are some beautiful harmonies in this song between the singer and her partner that give the song a more optimistic feeling than the lyrics would give it alone.
With about half of the songs, if not more, worthy of being hit singles and the album as a whole being long and lacking any weak tracks at all, this is the sort of album that seems destined to be obscure for now but also the kind of album that a lot of people are going to like someday. This is the sort of album that, looking back on Michelle Branch’s career, will be hip to cheer on and support. Hopefully its present obscurity does not discourage Michelle Branch from making beautiful music and sharing it with the world. At least some people will appreciate it.
 See, for example: