"The reason I put 'Lucky' as the first track," Melissa Etheridge says of the title cut to her eighth album, " is also the reason I called the album Lucky: I don't want anybody to have any false ideas that this album is not an up album." She also could have called it When You Find The One after its closing track, a lullaby-like paean to a new love. Of the album's 13 new songs, nine of them bask in the glory of being madly, deeply and hopelessly in love, injecting Lucky with a lightheartedness not found on Etheridge's last outing, 2001's Skin, which narrated the dissolution of a very public 12-year relationship.
"I think the biggest difference is the difference in me, personally," says Etheridge. "Skin was the bottom, but since then I have met the most amazing woman ever, got myself together and found a center of a place to stand where I love myself and made my life good for me. I started writing and performing from a place of, 'Oh, I feel good, this is fun, I feel sexy..'" Indeed, the difference between Lucky and Skin is pretty startling because Lucky represents the first time that Melissa Etheridge has written so many happy songs. "That was always the question that so many people in interviews said to me: 'Do you think you can write if you're happy?' I remember thinking, 'I don't know,' because there was always that dark, underbelly of shadows going on, which, I prospered from. "Now," she figures, "I cannot truthfully write another 'Like the Way I Do,' 'Bring Me Some Water' or 'I'm The Only One.'"
Where once there were runaway rockers belted out by a jilted lover, Melissa has filled Lucky up with anthems, ballads and some of the most badass rock she's ever recorded. Songs like "Mercy" and "Will You Still Love Me" reveal the vulnerability attendant in any new relationship, while "Come On Out Tonight" and "If You Want To" toy with that same newness in a more playful way; "This Moment," like "When You Find The One," celebrates the emotional whirlwind that accompanies the onset of love; in "Secret Agent," Melissa taunts the boys who have the wrong idea about her new lover ("All the boys want to know if she's got something to hide/All the girls are relieved she's working for the other side") and "Kiss Me" is hot, steamy and sexy. The album's first single, a classic Melissa arena rocker called "Breathe," marks the first time she has included a song on an album that she didn't write, but its lyric deals with longing for loved ones while on the road, so she had no trouble making it her own.
"I'm a little scared about it because it's the first single," she fesses up. "Am I compromising artistically with it? I don't feel like I'm compromising myself-I can't wait to play the song live. I don't know, I feel a little naked about it."
"If one puts on the album," Etheridge deliberates, "I would like to suppose that they would walk away going, 'This is another chapter, this is being in love and the experiences around it, this is rich in life.' Not every song. I went in many different places-the social places, the memory places; those songs are still there-but overall I think it's, 'Oh, that's a good feeling.'"
Lucky may induce a good feeling now, but it certainly didn't start out that way. Of course, this is Melissa Etheridge we're talking about, so you knew there would be some darkness lurking in here somewhere, and sure enough the recording sessions did not go anywhere near the way she'd planned. "It got painful making this record, but it was a lesson for me."
Coming off her very successful solo tour (which is documented in last year's Platinum-selling Live.and Alone DVD), Etheridge initially thought of doing a live album with some new tunes, also recorded live. So she called up old friends Kenny Aronoff and Mark Browne for drums and bass, respectively, enlisted new guitarist James Harrah, and worked up several new songs to play at a club gig in Los Angeles in April 2002. But after listening back to the tapes of the show Melissa changed her mind about doing a live album and instead she wrote some more songs and hit the road for the summer with the band.
She began recording Lucky in September of 2002 with engineer David Cole, who had co-produced Skin, and her band, but admittedly Etheridge got a little too into new technology and found much of the essence of the songs obscured by computer wizardry. Still, she sent the tracks to Island Records, her label since 1988; their response left a lot to be desired, which left Melissa wondering what they were looking for from her. "I was like, 'Uh-oh. What do they want? Do they want a Britney Spears record?' I started feeling lost, like I wasn't live Melissa that my fans love and I wasn't a radio-friendly artist. I was in the middle, which was going to kill me."
Desperate for a compass to help her find her way home, Etheridge turned to engineer Ross Hogarth (Jewel, Celine Dion, The Black Crowes) and a different set of musicians to recapture that band-playing-in-the-studio vibe. Again the label was less than enthused, and they suggested she try writing with her old friend John Shanks. "I went over there and John played some music for me, and I wrote 'This Moment.'" The folks at Island liked the new song, but finally suggested that Melissa try recording a song written by a band that is currently on the same label. "I was like, 'Oh god, if it's something crazy and so far away from me I'm gonna say no. Please Island, see me as who I am and what I am, and send me something that sounds like that.'
"They sent me 'Breathe,' and I loved it. I changed a couple of the words, and cut it a little faster, and I love it," she proclaims. "And the record company finally went, 'We love this.'" By this point, a very long year had come and gone since she'd started recording; it was September of 2003, and finally Lucky was finished.
Lucky comes out February 10, 2004, and a full-band "super club" tour of America begins two days later. Melissa Etheridge is at the top of her game now, with arguably the most spirited and joyful album in a 15-year career that has included more peaks than any small-town girl could have dreamed of. She's sold 25 million albums worldwide, grabbed a dozen Grammy nominations (and two statuettes) and sung with some of her biggest heroes. To this day, her fans are among the most loyal and appreciative in rock & roll, with one of them bidding nearly $12,000 at a recent charity auction-simply for the privilege of having lunch Melissa. "To have somebody pay so much money just to spend an hour with me is.," she pauses, punctuating her words with an uncomfortable laugh, "unusual."
With every accolade she's attained, with successes too numerous to completely account for and with a catalog of nearly 100 songs to rest on, Melissa Etheridge is still focused on one thing only. "I love to rock," she declares, dragging the sentence out for emphasis. "When I'm singing, and I've got people in the audience throwing their head back and their hands up, I want to do that as long as I can."
--- from the official Melissa Etheridge website