In the early noughties it looked as if singer-songwriter Michelle Branch was going to be the next breakout female star. Her major label debut The Spirit Room, released in 2001, spawned the hits Everywhere, All You Wanted and Goodbye To You and was certified 2x Platinum in the US. Follow-up Hotel Paper arrived in 2003 and while it didn’t match the success of its predecessor, the album still achieved Platinum and created plenty of buzz around the star.
Three years on from that album Michelle changed direction heading into the world of Country music with her former backing singer and friend Jessica Harp. Together as The Wreckers they released Stand Still, Look Pretty hitting number one with Leave the Pieces. Despite the success they achieved, the band didn’t stay together long and split to pursue their solo interests. From that point on it’s been a frustrating road for Michelle who has recorded, and had shelved, a series of albums and began to wonder, like her fans, if she was ever going to release new music.
After plenty of false starts, Michelle has signed a new record deal and recently released her first solo album in 14 years called Hopeless Romantic. With plenty of life experience under her belt and having enjoyed success in the early days of her career, there’s no denying that Hopeless Romantic is a culmination of the frustration and setbacks that have plagued the singer for the past decade. Musically the album is more mature than her first two albums and it’s not quite as polished and radio-ready as they were.
For Hopeless Romantic Michelle has teamed up with Patrick Carney from The Black Keys and producer Gus Seyffert. The sound for the album is darker than the bright-eyed pop that Michelle rose to fame with. The music here is a bit edgier exploring rock sounds while embracing pop sensibilities. Best You Ever kicks off the set and its infectious groove sets things off in the right direction. The song does a very good job of bridging the gap between Michelle’s past releases and establishing her sound in a music industry that’s very different to the one she used to compete in.
That’s not to say she’s lost her ear for a catchy melody. Early highlight Fault Line sees Michelle using her voice in a different way and boasts a very catchy chorus that you’ll hum long after the song comes to an end. Knock Yourself Out recalls the glory days of Goodbye To You and is sure to become a fan favourite with its stirring melody.
The album’s most experimental moments come on the 80s-tinged Living a Lie, which is a punchy hand-clap driven rock track and the subtle funk of Temporary Feeling, which is reminiscent of Daft Punk and Pharrell’s Get Lucky. It’s nice to hear Michelle breaking out of her comfort zone and pushing the boundaries of what people expect to hear from her.
Elsewhere on the album Not a Love Song is a classic slice of Michelle thanks to its soaring chorus, title track Hopeless Romantic is a grungy understated rock number, and You’re Good layers Michelle’s vocals over crunching guitars for a down and dirty pop/rock gem.
Hopeless Romantic is a welcome return to music for Michelle. The album perfectly establishes who she is as an artist now and carries forward plenty of elements from Michelle’s past music so that longtime fans have no trouble getting on board. At 14 tracks long the album could have cut a few tracks to make it tighter but honestly it’s just so good to have Michelle back, we can forgive her pretty much anything.
Track List: 1. Best You Ever 2. You’re Good 3. Fault Line 4. Heartbreak Now 5. Hopeless Romantic 6. Living a Lie 7. Knock Yourself Out 8. Temporary Feeling 9. Carry Me Home 10. Not a Love Song 11. Last Night 12. Bad Side 13. Shadow 14. City Record Label: Decca Release Date: 6th April 2017