July 14, 2010

Michelle Branch - "You Get Me"

Just a quick news update before we get back to our irregularly scheduled programming. I won't take full credit for this, but merely a few hours after I posted the first entry of my multi-part Michelle Branch series, she announced via Twitter that the record label has cleared her to release a new 6-song EP.  It will be called Everything Comes and Goes (which was the original name when it was set to be an LP) and will be released in the next "few weeks." I certainly hope so.

Let's now move forward back to the past behind us...

Spring 2002 - After listening to my folderful of mostly live Michelle Branch mp3s for a while, I eventually decided that I would commit to buying the album. If I remember correctly, Tunes in Hoboken did not have it in stock, so I picked it up at Sam Goody.  This was a time when I was listening to a lot of System of a Down, Fantomas, and Dillinger Escape Plan, so buying a contemporary "girly pop" album was quite a leap for me. It's not that I had anything against female vocalists--I did enjoy Sleater-Kinney and Melt Banana recordings--but I was never into any that were on Top 40 radio. OK, I did buy The Sundays' "Summertime" song which apparently hit #15 on the '97 UK Singles Chart, but that's Britannia, not Britney-Land. Here in the US, there was/is a very specific demographic associated with pop music, and I wasn't a screaming teenage girl outside of TRL studios.

This is what the album looked like when I bought it:

It would later be changed to this version:

Why? Maybe the leather and smog was supposed to convey a toughness to set it apart from squeaky clean pop? She looks considerably younger in the "blue" version, even though that's the photo used in later versions. Is it to appeal to younger fans? And are the studs on her belt that assure you she's a "PRO," made to appeal to the adult set? I don't know. My guess is that they probably just changed the first cover because it doesn't really look like Michelle in real life. In fact, it looks more like Vanessa Carlton, whose album, Be Not Nobody was hot around the same the time of the cover change. Regardless, you get both versions of the cover with whichever version you purchased, so go debate your preference on your own time.

 The first thing you notice inside the album is that Branch had a hand in writing all of the songs--5 on her own, 3 with the help of the producer John Shanks, and the remaining 3 with Shanks and other songwriters. "You Get Me" is one of the tracks with outside collaboration, in this case professional songwriter Shelly Peiken and singer-songwriter Abra Moore. Peiken, I'd never heard of, but has written tunes for youngens like Mandy Moore, Britney Spears, and Cristina Aguilera, and oldies like Meat Loaf, Joe Cocker, and Celine Dion. She's also written "Bitch" by Meredith Brooks, a song that I have tremendous hatred for, but that's another story. Abra Moore I remember having a song in the late 90's called "Four Leaf Clover" that didn't leave much of an impression on me at the time. Shanks also has a writing credit for "You Get Me."

Unfortunately, I have no idea how the collaboration came to be, since I have no sources for this series other than Wikipedia and my memory (If any relevant parties would like to come forward and share, please stop laughing at me, and do so). I don't know if this was instrumental written by one person, then polished by another, then arranged by another, and lyrics added by the fourth, or if they all sat in a room together and wrote together. Reading over Abra Moore's career story and listening to "Four Leaf Clover" for the first time in ten years, I'm thinking it may have went down like this:

Moore had a modest hit with "Four Leaf Clover" but despite a Grammy nomination, didn't quite close the deal commercially. She started working on a follow-up which was probably in her style, but the label didn't see a hit single anywhere and convinced her to either collaborate with Peiken, or to try one of her already-written tunes. Moore's record deal and major label LP eventually fall through, and the song is either never finished or released. Fast forward a few years to Michelle Branch's debut album production process... the label (Maverick) wants a few more solid tracks to round out the album. Shanks might have gotten a handful of label-approved demos or he had a pile sitting around on his hard drive waiting for the right artist, but at some point it gets offered to Branch. Abra Moore (and to some extent Shelly Peiken) was affiliated with the Lilith Fair set, which had a degree of influence over Branch, so there's a clear match. She writes new lyrics, or changes some of the existing ones to fit her style, and there you have it. Obviously I'm making a million assumptions here, but as the song says "In my imagination/anything goes."

A decade later, "Four Leaf Clover" really isn't a bad tune. I'm not familiar enough with Abra Moore's work enough to be able to pick apart "You Get Me" and figure out who wrote what. To be completely honest, "Four Leaf Clover" fits better into the scheme of the classic Michelle Branch structure than "You Get Me." It's got a strong acoustic guitar opening riff that continues throughout most of the verses while other instruments and vocals are added. There are a couple brief changes, and a shitload of choruses at the end. "You Get Me" is put together with chord progressions instead of riffs, and the different sections work together, but are very much separate. In fact, the only thing the two songs have in common are a drum machine and a guitar solo.

I think the highlight of this track for me is the expressive bass playing. Everything else is fairly mechanical. To me, it just doesn't fit as the second song of the album. It certainly serves to break up the "Everywhere" and "All You Wanted" monsters, but it's too much autopilot too soon. Don't get me wrong, it's a nice song--just too safe. "Something To Sleep To" (which appears later on the album) accomplishes the same tempo goal as "You Get Me," but has more energy, and more importantly, more drama. Most Michelle Branch songs are about unrequited love, but "You Get Me" doesn't fit that theme. I believe it may have originally been intended as a single (I swear I saw it featured on an album cover sticker) but that never happened. Maybe if it were called "You Don't Get Me," things would have been different...

No comments: