Staying true to her integrity as a chameleonic musician who defies categorization and pop magnetism, Meshell Ndegeocello plotted a brave stylistic pivot with Bitter. Resculpting her pioneering R&B/funk/hip hop/acid jazz hybrid (long before it was branded "neo-soul" or whatever) into an intelligent amalgamation of acoustic pop, alt-rock, and folk arrangements with understated orchestral touches, she directed a personal gaze onto the emotional strains of an unwieldy romantic relationship, deeply inspired by her own. Ndegeocello examines the wretched aftermath of her romance by assessing the heartbreak, unease, betrayal, and denial that caused it splinter, spinning a pendulum of difficult moods and emotions throughout its dirge-like, meditative framework. While it's certainly a downcast album, there's much beauty to be found within its melancholic atmosphere. As much as Bitter was praised in the music press for its artistic whims and stark honesty, the album wasn't a big seller. To make matters worse, Ndegeocello garnered divided reception from her black audience, who exalted Plantation Lullabies and to a lesser extent, Peace Beyond Passion, for moving forward musically. Similarly to the cold snarkiness she received for her 1994 pop-rock minded pairing with John Mellencamp, "Wild Night," some accused her of selling out to "whiter" styles. Departure albums can be tricky vehicles for black artists, as they're more often than not discouraged from being exploratory with their art. Whatever is too obscure, progressive, or uncharacteristic to their usual form is unfortunately bound to be critically and/or commercially derided. For Ndegeocello, Bitter would be the first in several brave departures that would draw the line in the sand for how people perceived (or misperceived) her colorful artistic travels.
The fact that much of Meshell Ndegeocello's canon hasn't been given proper vinyl treatment is frustrating. It's long overdue. Still can't fathom Bitter still not being available on vinyl 20 years after its initial release. From an engineering and musical standpoint, it was primed for the format.