I've been tossing the idea around of getting more into writing about music here. I was considering sticking to the Top 40 pop chart for the sake of relevancy, but then I thought it might be better to choose an artist and go in depth rather than just skim a genre. Call me crazy, but I found myself listening to Michelle Branch the other day, I realized she should be the subject of this series.
Why Michelle Branch? Well, I've been following her career for quite a while now, and I definitely consider myself acquainted with her body of work. It's also not a tremendously large catalog, so even if this turns out to be a disaster, it will be over before I know it. I feel like she's not an artist that is often written about or given much credit in the pop or rock world, so that makes for a good subject. It's also an unusual time in her life right now, as she has an new solo album recorded, but her label has stalled on releasing it for at least a year now. Finally, today is her 27th birthday, so I'm seizing the serendipitous moment and going for it.
I haven't really worked out the logistics yet, but I believe this will look like a track-by-track analysis of her catalog. It might get technical, or critical, or softball, or it might just be filled up with anecdotes. It might end up being a better analysis of my taste than her work, who knows? Regardless of how it ends, I know where it's going to start--with the song "Everywhere."
"Everywhere" was the first song I had ever heard by a young musician from Arizona named Michelle Branch. It's the probably the first song of hers that most people have heard and for many, the only one. It wasn't until early 2002 that I heard the song on the radio, even though it had already hit its peak on the pop charts in late 2001. Nobody ever really accused me of being too on top of things.
Those days I was waking up at 4:30 AM to drive to work 75 miles away. I was sleep deprived most of the time and a bit out of my mind. When I got bored with my mix tapes, I would flip around the radio until Howard Stern came on. I usually put on oldies stations or the Seton Hall metal station WSOU. If I was feeling weird, I could sometimes catch reception from the experimental Princeton station. Back then, I rarely ever put on a Top 40 station because it was mostly dancey garbage. But one day I caught "Everywhere" and was instantly hooked.
When I realized I was often flipping to different pop stations hoping to catch it, I decided to seek it out online. I had (and still have) this thing about illegal downloading, so when I booted up my AOL (yeah, I really had AOL for a while), I downloaded an alternate version of the song. It was the "Acoustic" version of the song, which I believe was the vocals and acoustic guitar tracks separated from the original studio non-acoustic version. Though I now prefer the full version, that acoustic version was what I listened to most in the beginning. Plus, it made catching the radio version even more of a treat.
"Everywhere" starts with some subtle, yet confidently arpeggiated acoustic guitar chords battling a dinky drum machine. The vocal melody comes in strong and tips the balance of the track in favor of organic sounds then eventually morphs into heavier, full band performance. The song soon takes a break from being choppy and picks up some backup vocals. There's a quick pause to soak it all in and then the gigantic chorus explodes.
That chorus is a big and important one. It's been on compilations and in movies and commercials (though surprisingly never "you're everything I know that makes Maybelline"). It pretty much set the stage for her--a stage that shows her at times rebelling against the song, its formula, and its consequences, and other times embracing and chasing its success. It's the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" of the 00's teen pop era. I think. Maybe I'm making all this up.
Anyway, I like the song, especially the second half of the second verse where the chords change up. They appear again later as an alternate ending to one of the last choruses. Those parts really punch it up as an intelligent and slightly more complex pop tune and give jerks like me something to not complain about. While it's unabashedly a Big Chorus song, there are plenty of dynamics within the verses and bridges to keep things interesting. All right, I gotta go do some stuff. See you next time?