A Friday Music Feature: Michelle Branch

Michelle Branch The Spirit Room

I’ve written about “inner 13-year-old girl love” of Michelle Branch’s music. This is certainly the album that did it. The Spirit Room dropped in 2001, and it gave Branch a good three-year run of being on the charts with that album. While I do like the singles (“Everywhere,” “All You Wanted,” and “Goodbye To You,” the album closer is the one I found the most interesting.

“Drop in the Ocean” starts out slow, if not a bit plodding. There’s some synth and electronic percussion layered into the song, but after a brief pause in the vocals, it picks up the tempo with an electronic drum loop that rides out the song ’til the end. I suppose “Drop in the Ocean” shares a similar song structure to Gary Go’s “Heart and Soul” in that, it starts slow, builds in tempo and then ends roughly where it began. Perhaps that’s why I like it; it could be that I’m a sucker for that song structure.

Which reminds me…

Years ago, I read a book called This is Your Brain on Music, and in it, the author says that what differentiates songs that people say they like versus those that don’t are the surprising elements and variations in the music that are unexpected to the listener. While Michelle Branch’s hits have elements are standard for pop songs, she was able to be “unexpected” because her guitar-based confessional pop wasn’t in vogue in ’01. What I like about “Drop in the Ocean” is that John Shanks (the producer and her band leader) created a sound that wasn’t like the songs that preceded it on the album. The electronica vibe made “Drop in the Ocean” a very strong album closer because it gave the listener a sense that Branch was a musician who was more than just “me and my guitar singing songs about failed relationships.” Uh well, she’s really ridden that musical horse for most of her career, and these kind of songs don’t seem to fall out of favor with a section of the music buying public, so I can’t fault her for writing about what she knows (even though the irony is that she’s been married for almost a decade, has a kid, and for all that I know, a pretty healthy relationship with her hubby).

In way, though, I thought this song signaled (or was sending up a trial balloon) for a shift in musical direction for her next album. You know, put the more experimental stuff at the end of the album and see if it’s interesting enough to explore for the next one. If you’ve heard her music after The Spirit Room, you know that it was more of the same for the follow-up. It wasn’t until Branch ventured into the realm of country music did she really shift gears and try working a genre that was different from pop/adult contemporary. Branch is still recording and performing, but perhaps if she’s looking for another musical challenge/direction, maybe she should revisit this song to see if trying something in the electronica realm would produce interesting music. Now that I’ve just typed that sentence, I realize that this could be a horrible idea. Why? Because there’s a chance she might get pulled into that crap called Dubstep — and that would be very, very bad indeed.

Clicky click to hear “Drop in the Ocean” by Michelle Branch

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