Your Little Secret
Melissa Etheridge (Island 314 524 154)
With the release of "Your Little Secret," Melissa Etheridge is in the closet no longer -- she has finally come out as a Springsteen acolyte. Although the album's Bruce-isms are hardly as overt as oh, say, Bon Jovi's "New Jersey," it's clear she's well-versed in the vocabulary. From the tramps-like-us desperation of "Nowhere Go" to the let-me-take-you-away entreaties of "All the Way to Heaven," Etheridge vividly evokes the kind of rock and roll romance that powered Springsteen albums like "Born to Run" and "The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle." To her credit, though, Etheridge never quite makes that seem like open imitation; if anything, songs like "This War Is Over" and "Shriner's Park" push the Springsteenian aspects of her sound to a level that's entirely her own. But the album's greatest strength lies with her ability to evoke the allure of illicit desire, of that dark, steamy land that lies between "I shouldn't" and "I want it." Whether she's delineating the strategies of seduction in "Such an Unusual Kiss," confessing to an irrational attraction in "I Want to Come Over," or singing about a romantic triangle in the title tune, Etheridge makes it all too easy to see the good side of bad love. And that's a secret Springsteen has yet to master.
Welcome to the Neighborhood
Meat Loaf (MCA 11341)
Considering the extent to which "Bat Out of Hell II" showed that lightning can indeed strike twice, who could blame Meat Loaf for trying for a three-peat? But as diligently as he applies his tremulous tenor to the rock-operatic excesses of "Welcome to the Neighborhood," it's hard to shake the sense that there's more filler than meat in this recipe. Though Diane Warren's "I'd Lie for You (And That's the Truth)" does a reasonable job of retracing the shape of "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)" right down to the parenthetical title, the songs still taste like reheated leftovers -- stale, dry and lacking much of the original appeal. Still, it's a better use of his talents than rock-by-number routines like "Runnin' for the Red Light" or the unpardonable "Amnesty Is Granted." And what idiot suggested he sing Tom Wait's "Martha" as if he were Mandy Patinkin? In fact, apart from the campy charm of Jim Steinman's endearingly over-the-top "Original Sin," there'd be nothing welcome about this "Neighborhood" at all.
Orange Crate Art
Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks (Warner Bros. 45427)
Considering that the last complete project Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks worked on together was the legendary (and never released) Beach Boys album "Smile," it's easy to see why a new collaboration between the two would leave long-time Wilson fans panting with anticipation. But "Orange Crate Art" is hardly the album the duo's past would leave most listeners expecting. In fact, it's barely even what the credits suggest, as Wilson's contribution is strictly vocal, with all the material provided by Parks and his cohort Michael Hazelwood. That's not to downplay Wilson's contribution, for he sings beautifully throughout, from the dense, complicated harmonies of the title tune to the uplifting cadences of "Wings of a Dove." But Parks' material remains something of an acquired taste; despite the rock instrumentation, his arrangements have more in common with old-time film music (a genre the duo evokes vividly in "Movies Is Magic") than contemporary pop. So though the haunting refrains and exotic textures of "San Francisco" or "Palm Trees and Moon" have their appeal, the pleasures they convey are nowhere near as easy or immediate as Beach Boys fans might expect.
Iron Butterfly (Rhino 72196)
Acid flashbacks may be a myth, but acid-rock flashbacks are real -- and far more frightening than you'd think. Don't believe me? Just slap a copy of Iron Butterfly's newly remastered "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" in the CD player, and suddenly even those who never got any closer to the psychedelic '60s than reruns of "Laugh-In" will find themselves in the middle of a bad trip. It isn't just the epic inanity of the title tune, which boasts an organ solo longer than the '60s itself; it's the fact that this reissue offers three different versions of the thing! In addition to the original album track, there's also a live rendition, and the mercifully shortened single edit, effectively tripling the album's irritation potential. After spending time with the sub-Doors drivel that fills out this album, it becomes clear why nobody remembers anything else about Iron Butterfly. But by then it's too late -- you've already lost so many brain cells that you find yourself thinking, "Gee, if only I could play drums like that . . ."