Michelle Branch has a lot of lost time to catch up on. Her last proper album came out 14 years ago. Let that sink in. 14 years. 2003.
But she hasn’t been sitting idly by. In 2005, she was one half of The Wreckers, a country duo with bff Jessica Harp, who released the gold record Sit Still, Look Pretty before turning in two full-length albums that were never released due to record label politics.
In 2009, the underrated This Way was to serve as the lead single to her then-upcoming record Everything Comes And Goes, but after going nowhere, a new country-pop single was issued, Sooner Or Later. That album was delayed and ultimately released as a 6-track afterthought in 2010. Later that year, she teamed up with Timbaland on the song Getaway, which also went nowhere. A year later, she announced her return to folk-pop with a new album West Coast Time, led by the single Loud Music, which did moderately well but you know the drill. No album came.
When Branch finally surfaced with word of a new album earlier this year, it was a case of wait and see and on April 7, Hopeless Romantic was released.
Rather than attempt to recreate what she had before or pick up where she left off, Michelle does a 360 and hits the ground running with Hopeless Romantic. The record is sometimes sassy, sometimes flirty, and sometimes bluesy with a hint of electro from gritty bass synths. It’s quite likely that, had there not been the gap between records, she would followed some trajectory that would have more or less bridged her to this sound anyway. It’s jarring for those tried-and-true to her first two albums, but it’s not unexpected for her to evolve and fit with the times.
Most of the songs come following her 2015 divorce and new relationship with collaborator/co-producer and Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney. Songs like Best You Ever and the indie-rocker Living A Lie shed the old as she sings “I don’t want to waste anymore time,” and “watch me walk away,” while tracks like Heartbreak Now and Carry Me Home put new love on display, “You make me feel like I’ve had too much to drink.” She’s passed the innocence of teenage love and heartbreak and has long adopted a more mature outlook, as evidenced on lead single Hopeless Romantic: “underneath the sheets I feel so wanted.”
The album isn’t as melody driven or instant as Hotel Paper and The Spirit Room, but it’s not void of them. Fault Line and Heartbreak Now are among those with the strongest hooks, and Knock Yourself Out is a familiar reminder of the Michelle of yesteryear as one of the album’s only acoustic numbers. There’s nothing that captures as surely as All You Wanted and Are You Happy Now, but with this record, Michelle is sounding confident, fresh, and accomplished.
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