By Rob Brunner
Updated August 30, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

If even one half of Bitter, Meshell Ndegéocello’s third album, is autobiographical, then her life since 1996’s ”Peace Beyond Passion” has been a grueling period of cruelty and infidelity between her and a lover. She’s been made a fool of, ignored, lied to, betrayed, and emotionally abused in just about every way imaginable. Lucky us: Her misery has resulted in a stunning set of tough and tender sob stories.

Produced by Craig Street (k.d. lang, Cassandra Wilson), ”Bitter” bears little resemblance to Ndegéocello’s two previous albums, both of which spun themes of spirituality and identity politics into fusiony funk workouts. Instead, she uses a piano, a string quartet, and some lovely electric guitar to create a sound reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix’s quieter songs (his ”May This Be Love” marks the album’s midpoint).

She delivers simple, declarative phrases in a simple, demonstrative voice. When she sighs that ”no one is faithful” (clearly including herself), her quiet resignation screams hurt and guilt and strength all at once. Bitter never tasted so sweet.