There are certain artists every music writer can point to as the one that started it all. For me, that artist is Michelle Branch. Sure, I was one of those pop-obsessed tweens who devoured everything on the radio at the time but Michelle’s music changed all of that, steering me into a world where music meant something. Her 2001 debut, The Spirit Room, came at a crucial time as everything started to change, especially here in New York City right after 9/11. I started to feel music differently at that time and the way I perceive everything I have listened to has not faltered since I got my hands on that album.
It’s crazy to think that the last time Branch released her last record, Hotel Paper, I was on the verge of turning 15. As the singer encountered many trying experiences in the music industry and throughout her personal life, including the never-ending major label limbo that prevented her from releasing two albums over the past decade, the singer persevered. Today, Hopeless Romantic, the first solo record in 14 years, is released and we can only assume that both Branch and her fans are breathing a sigh of relief.
With the help of The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney, Hopeless Romantic is the record we have been anticipating from Branch, making the decade-long wait so worth it. Sharing experiences of her recent divorce to falling in love all over again with Carney (relationship goals, for sure) the record delves into the pains of never truly having it all figured out all while life goes on before our eyes. Add in the singer’s scintillating new sound and you’ve got yourself a winner!
Opening with “Best You Ever,” we’re given a glimpse of what to expect lyrically but as the album plays on, we soon find out that we weren’t ready at all! “You’re Good” is that surprise we’ve all been waiting for as some serious indie vibes come into play, making us rethink everything we’ve ever known about Branch and why we never heard this side of her before. “Fault Line” continues this notion with a Jenny Lewis meets In The Valley Below vibe. There’s clearly no lack of moments of rolling down your windows and belting out every word.
“Heartbreak Now” is an anthem for those who always seem to dwell in the hell of unrequited love set to the dreamiest soundscapes 2017 has ever heard while title track, “Hopeless Romantic,” tends to build on the story of stubborn love and all the ways it can often ‘eat you alive.’
The energy gets turned way up with “Living A Lie” – a definite change for Branch – along with the alt-pop jam, “Temporary Feeling,” while “Knock Yourself Out” is Branch’s Alanis Morissette moment that would fit beautifully smack dab in the middle of Jagged Little Pill.
Things only pick up with “Not A Love Song,” the Tame Impala-esque “Last Night,” and “Carry Me Home,” especially with the line of, “I think I love you, but what do I know?” The ever-present theme of self-realization on this record is empowering, especially for those who tend to fall in line with the same mistakes because it’s all we’ve ever known. The decisions we make to finally make some crucial changes are the ones that truly mold us and the subject of transition can often be irresistible to not write about.
“Bad Side” surprisingly reminded me of synthpop up-and-comers, flor, and I can easily imagine them killing this one as a cover! “Your demons play with mine,” Branch croons as she delves into the dark side of a person while still finding beauty in all that doesn’t shine – something we should all try to embrace.
Things get a bit darker with “Shadow” while closing track, “City,” plays on the same sensibilities. Possibly the album’s most lyrically gripping track, “City” is filled to the brim with honesty and raw emotion – something Branch fans have always clung to and will continue to treasure. It’s good to have this girl back again.
Hopeless Romantic is available now here.