Melissa Etheridge

Skin (Island)

The breaking-up-is-hard-to-do theme has scattered its hoary sentimentality across decades of music. Girl meets boy, boy digs girl, girl dumps boy (and vice versa) -- it's been a tenet of pop music since time began. So it was only a matter of time, one would suppose, until the theme was blatantly put to test with regard to a same-sex relationship. Somewhat predictably, it's Melissa Etheridge who has given us the first high-profile girl-loses-girl record. Such fare could easily wind up grossly maudlin in other hands, but to her credit, Etheridge, who has the pure sort of rock-and-roll heart that would never allow syrup to gum up a melody, remains steadfast in her treatment of matters of the heart. She refuses to allow these songs to get swamped in the pathetic, mawkish pettiness that can accompany a lost lover's spite.

Skin, then, is an earnest autobiography, done well in terms of its lyrical approach to the apparently cathartic dissolution of Etheridge's well-publicized relationship. She treats the breakup blues with a refined maturity and generally leaves the soul-cleansing to a handful of less-than-rancorous cuts. Sometimes, entirely approachable songs get muddled under soft-rock production that features such un-Etheridge touches as drum machines, loops, samples, and ethereal background vocals. At one point, she even goes completely overboard on the upbeat "I Wanna Be in Love." What's been pushed as a serious breakup record sounds more like she's found someone new than lost someone she loved. Strangely enough, Skin ultimately comes across as a great big, weird smile.