The Singles Bar: Michelle Branch - "Loud Music"

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We're about to review a new pop/rock single by Michelle Branch. It must be 2001 again, again!

Now, a Michelle Branch single alone doesn't make it 2001, mind you. The Wreckers had a substantial, if not exactly massive country career, and Branch followed that up with last year's solo EP Everything Comes and Goes. There's also been a few compilation-album tracks and a collaboration with Timbaland--less of a Nelly Furtado move than it sounds, as the track's not that far off from her usual sound.

But everything about "Loud Music" and the forthcoming album sounds like it should be attached to a pitch: "Remember how good The Spirit Room was? Well, here's more!" Branch has again recruited "Everywhere" songwriter John Shanks, and parts of "Loud Music"--in particular, the sound of the guitars on the bridge--are an almost eerie catapult into a decade ago. (As far as the single's premiere via webcast, we guess it'd have to involve a lot of Real Player.) The country inflections are still there in Branch's voice, but they sound even more like the quirks she brought with her from the start.

Specifically, Branch wants to remind us that this is her rock move, namechecking Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Spinal Tap and countless others in what's an ode to capital-letter RAWK. This doesn't quite come out in the music, mind you. It follows a soft-loud structure that's basically impossible to screw up, but the drums are a bit tinny, and the chorus stops short of loud, Branch's vocals far lower and matter-of-fact than the content calls for. If there was world-rocking volume here, it's since gone past about five walls with a couple acres in between.

But all these are only the fault of mismatched lyrics. Without the constant hard-rock callouts, "Loud Music" is every bit as good as the rest of Branch's back catalogue. It's even more welcome for how Branch's contemporaries have either vanished from the charts (Vanessa Carlton, Ashlee Simpson) or reinvented themselves to the point where calling them contemporaries would be skipping tons of context (Furtado and Avril Lavigne, whose forever-young musical direction is starting to resemble Benjamin Button's.)

Nowadays, Branch's closest analogue is probably P!nk. Parts of the verses on "Loud Music" sound like smoothed-over renditions of "Raise Your Glass," and the occasional sound-effect interjections--check out the one after "you took me home to see your new guitar"--are classic P!nk moves. But there are plenty of worse people to emulate, especially if you're looking for a lasting career.