Release Date: 06.24.03
Record label: Maverick
Not Worth the Paper It's Printed On
by: jonathan baran
Sitting in the midst of my Twenties I realize it is a bit odd, even immature, to have a crush on a young pop star I will never even have a chance to meet (unless of course I get invited to the next P. Diddy party, which I am keeping my fingers crossed for). But what is hardest for me to accept is that I could have met my dear Michelle, and subsequently swept her off her feet. On a cold October night of my freshman year in college Ms. Branch embarked on her first U.S. headlining tour and made a stop at the intimate little Café Montmartre in Madison, Wisconsin. I begged and pleaded for someone to accompany me to the show, but since I could find no takers I graciously accepted my role as a freshman and probably drank my night away, thus leaving Michelle’s life as well as my own lonely and unfulfilled to this day. Why do I dare recount this embarrassing piece of pop idolization that could ruin the indie credibility I have long strived for? Because the longer I spend damning myself the less space I have to devote to slandering my would-be partner.
Branch’s 2001 major label debut The Spirit Room was about as frothy and straight ahead as pop rock can get, but honestly it was some damn fine froth. While songs such as “Everywhere”, “All You Wanted”, and “If Only She Knew” didn’t dare to tread any ground not already tread a thousand times, the slick production and-most importantly-self penned lyrics made for an album full of guilty pleasures and tasty pop tracks. But what really helped make The Spirit Room such a listenable album was that this was a 17 year old pop singer actually wearing clothing, playing instruments, and (gasps!) writing songs in an age where Britney and Christina ruled the airwaves. Fast forward to 2003 and suddenly Britney is off the radar screen, Christina had much of her latest effort produced by alternative rocker Linda Perry (albeit still undressed), and some of the biggest names in pop are young girls with bands (Pink, Avril, even Disney starlet Hilary Duff). Suddenly wearing a guitar around your neck isn’t enough to be different. In order to take her career to the next level Michelle needed to respond to the new teen pop scene with something much more grand, but instead Hotel Paper sounds like the forced response to a record exec’s demand for a product to push while the “rock” sound was hot.
If there is one word that can sum up the entirety of Hotel Paper it is "bland." Nothing comes close to the shimmering hits off of The Spirit Room and no track is ever able to discern itself from any of the others. With song titles such as “Are You Happy Now?”, “Where Are You Now?”, “Till I Get Over You”, and “It’s You”, each track tends to bleed right into the other and the only thing the listener is left to ponder is how boring of a guy “You” must have been to warrant such boring songs. But possibly the weakest track on an album full of them is the Sheryl Crow duet “Love Me Like That”. If lyrics such as “look me in the eye babe, and tell me, why ya gonna love me like that, why ya gonna love me like that” aren’t bad enough, even worse is that this is the best that a Grammy Award winning artist and Grammy nominated artist could come up with, and the song continues both artists’ streak of horrid duets.
Michelle has proved she can write infectious hits, and as long as she can avoid songs such as Crow’s Worst Song of All Time Nominee “Picture”, and be given time to actually write some good pop instead of rushing out a set of dreary ballads maybe all is not lost in her young career.
PS-I’m sorry Michelle, I still think you are beautiful. 08-Jul-2003 9:20 AM