"I've laid down my burden, the one where I have something I should prove," Melissa Etheridge wails on "Heaven on Earth," one of many rock anthems that populate her new Island Def Jam (IDJ) album "Fearless Love," due April 27. More than 20 years into her career, Etheridge does seem to have shed that particular burden.
"On my journey of doing this-recording, rock star, whatever all this stuff is that I do-there was always this feeling that there's more, there's a place that I have to get to," she says. "You come to realize the ones who are finding satisfaction in their work and enjoying the art that they're making are the ones that have laid down that burden of having something to prove. You start enjoying the work that you do. And that's what this album is for me."
After 2007's quieter effort "The Awakening," the new record marks a return to Etheridge's gritty rock origins, as well as a reunion with longtime collaborator John Shanks, who produced "Fearless Love." Shanks was Etheridge's original guitarist and produced her albums "Breakdown" (1999) and "Lucky" (2004). Working with Shanks allows Etheridge to tap into her classic rock leanings while maintaining a contemporary vibe. The aim was a big rock sound with cuts that would feel at home on the airwaves.
"I sat down with John in 2008 and said, 'Dude, I've got to make this album that's like what we loved to listen to, that's got the Who and Led Zeppelin, to be as dangerous as they used to be," Etheridge says. "And John is one of the most contemporary producers out there: His sound is what's on the radio today. So I got both of those things." The title-track first single is No. 10 on Billboard's Triple A chart and moves 24-26 in its ninth week on Adult Top 40.
IDJ VP of marketing Garrett Schaeffer says that Etheridge's classic sound represents a return to form. "She's come back with this record that I think her core fans are really going to love," he says. "Even though she didn't go anywhere, there's going to be a feeling that she's back."
A return to familiar rock territory may well lead to a sales improvement over "The Awakening," which has sold 167,000 units in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Etheridge's total SoundScan-era sales top 10.6 million; her biggest seller is "Your Little Secret" (1995), with 1.3 million copies.
For the new album, her team has assembled a campaign that reaches traditional and new media. "We put together a two-week period around the release of the album that's going to make her really visible," Schaeffer says. "Everybody's going to know she's out there and has a new album." The campaign begins on TV with an April 20 appearance on QVC. Two days later, the team rolls into a release week that "any artist of her level would love to have," Schaeffer says. That week includes "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" (April 26), a band performance on "Dancing With the Stars" (April 27), Clear Channel's "Stripped" and AOL Sessions (April 29). On April 30, she will appear on "Good Morning America" and "The View" and will also conduct a live chat on YouStream.com.
The team believes Etheridge has a significant online following, and her involvement with social causes provides opportunity. IDJ is working with digital marketing firm Special Ops Media to target lifestyle sites as well as those of the causes Etheridge supports. "Part of the advertising we do is search engine marketing, and we run engagement ads to help build up her Facebook following," Schaeffer says.
Details of her tour (Etheridge is booked by Creative Artists Agency) are still being finalized, but she does say she's working on "the perfect three-hour show" before she heads out. Plans call for a brief European run in June, followed by touring all summer in North America. "We'll tour for a long time on this record," Etheridge says. "A lot of these songs have great 'live' energy, and I'm excited to play them."