July 16, 2001 12:00 PM

Melissa Etheridge (Island)

Wild hoarseness couldn’t drag Melissa Etheridge away from her customary stentorian roar, but it can be exhausting to listen to. Her declarations of unwanted independence—the singer-strummer parted company last year with her partner of 12 years, Julie Cypher—come in a voice so husky, it could put Brillo out of business.

On this album of frequently wrenching breakup tunes, in which nearly every track is infused with why-did-she-have-to-go bewilderment, Etheridge struggles to match Bob Dylan’s thesaurus of pain Blood on the Tracks. But the thundering vocals undercut the poignancy of such lyrics as “Answer my prayer/And answer the phone” from “Lover Please.” Better are “The Prison,” on which she murmurs that a breakup is like lockup, and the upbeat, synthesizer-sweetened single “I Want to Be in Love,” which yearns with surprising tenderness, “In front of total strangers won’t you kiss me/Flowers for no reason but you miss me.” It has evidently been rough going for Etheridge, but she musters hope for the finale, “Heal Me,” in which she turns to Christian imagery to hint that she has a newfound faith: “Ain’t it crazy/For a moment there/This felt just like dying/But now I see that something inside is coming alive…I am a witness to my resurrection.”

Bottom Line: Raw and revealing

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