Hotel Paper, Michelle Branch
Listening to an artist's sophomoric effort is a bit like playing Russian roulette with a gun - most of the time the artist is able to grow from their first album to release something even grander the second time around. But sometimes this attempt falls a little flat in comparison. The hit-and-miss can be almost deadly, especially if you've been anticipating something great.
BATTLE OF THE ALBUMS
Hotel Paper, Michelle Branch's second album, could have been a little better.
Technically, Branch has released three albums, the first being the independent Broken Bracelet. But since most of the songs ended up on her mainstream album, The Spirit Room, we'll just overlook that for a second. The Spirit Room took a while to gain momentum, and when it did, it didn't turn Branch into an overnight success, but it did make the public, media, and industry take notice. With her girlish voice and poppy guitar licks, she was like the happier, non-selling out younger sister of Jewel.
Produced by John Shanks, Greg Wells, Josh Abraham, and John Leventhal, the album features Sheryl Crow ("Love Me Like That") and Dave Navarro ("Are You Happy Now?"), among others. Which should come as no surprise, since Branch has already corroborated with the likes of Santana (producing her biggest hit to date). With all this star power, and four different producers, you'd expect something more diverse than what Hotel Paper has to offer.
After completing a world tour and appearing on "Total Request Live" every other week, Branch hit the studios to start work on Hotel Paper. The result was neither fresh nor daring. Most of the songs are almost painfully interchangeable with others from the Spirit Room, which leaves a dry taste in my mouth. There are few songs on Hotel Paper that are worth salivating over.
But for what it's worth, when the songs are good, they're great. On Are You Happy Now?, by far the angriest song on the album, Branch growls and almost yells through lyrics like, "Didn't really have everything you want / You could never give something you ain't got / You can't run away from yourself." She definitely does the angry thing better than Avril Lavigne could ever do (not that she isn't talented in her own right…or so I am supposed to say). On Find My Way Back, the melody doesn't really pick up until mid-song, but it's worth its three minutes and forty-five seconds. Tuesday Morning, one of the many melancholy songs on here, took a while for me to get used to, especially with lyrics like, "Please don't drive me home tonight / Cause I don't wanna feel alone / Please don't drive me home tonight / Cause I don't wanna go." But on several listens, the song grew on me, and on the whole, the lyrics are not that bad. And one of my favourites, One of These Days, is a light piano piece about love lost. Branch lends a vulnerable feel to the song, and despite the cringe-worthy high notes, does a great job with it. Breathe, Branch's second single, also takes a while to get used to, but finds Branch back in her guitar-inspired, poppy element, where she knows how to work it.
The second half of the album seems to want to be greater than it really is. On Love Me Like That, a duet with Sheryl Crow, Branch can't quite match the croon in Crow's voice, although her effort is commendable (and really, who can top Crow?) The result sounds like an episode of American Idol's Top Ten, with Branch performing Crow. Hotel Paper and It's You is usual ballad fare, and some of the disappointments on this release. But the biggest one has got to be 'Til I Get Over You. The song literally drags, and as much as it's meant to be downhearted, Branch just sounds like she'd rather be getting a root canal. The lyrics are confusing at times ("You got me like a loaded gun / Golden sun, and a sky so blue"), and the chorus is sung in French. Now, Branch is part French, but it just didn't make sense to include this in the song.
Hotel Paper has a more mature sound, but most of the songs lack the bright-eyed passion Branch had in The Spirit Room. Which is a shame, considering the talent that Branch possesses. ¤ C.Ho.
HOTEL PAPER: (out of 5)