Review Summary: Alanis' moody album full of subdued melodies which when combined with her fragile vocals helps create an album that goes beyond the upbeat and shallow Pop she normally produces.Alanis Morissette
made a name for herself when she released the album Jagged Little Pill
and more specifically the single “You Oughta Know” which appealed to young women everywhere due to the empowered nature of the lyrics and her no-bullshit attitude. I, for one, never really liked that song or the album. Underneath the slightly confrontational lyrics (for a mainstream Pop album) was nothing of substance or interest. It wasn’t until this album that I thought she did something interesting and slightly original.
This album stands apart from her catalog due to an increased focus on slower, more subdued songs. Instead of upbeat rockers or catchy Pop, she focuses more on creating one mood and a uniform feeling of what almost feels like a mixture of regret and underlying anger. That feeling rides on beats that are mostly mellow and programmed in nature, backed by strummed acoustic guitars and subtle keyboard melodies; which gives Alanis the backdrop she needs to display some very emotional and vulnerable vocals. This focus on moodiness caused a lot of her fans to dismiss this album as boring, but for those that aren’t glued to the top 40, there was plenty to be offered.
Songs such as “Utopia” and “That Particular Time” are two great examples of this mood and vulnerability in action. They’re both slow songs that make great use of minimal instrumental accompaniment (pianos and slowly strummed guitars) to create a gripping mood in which Alanis’ fragile voice is able to pour out her emotions and regrets in a way that I would compare to Sarah Mclachlan
except I think this is actually slightly better. Of course, since this a major label release by a top Pop act, there are some songs that are a little more upbeat then the songs I’ve just described, but they’re few and still aren’t what you could consider “uplifting”.
A song such as “So Unsexy” has a nice slow groove beat, and a subtle guitar riff that could have lent itself to a happy Pop song, but Alanis’ vocals and lyrical subject matter ensure that it doesn’t happen. Instead we get a song where she is singing of her insecurities around someone she sees as out of her league, again singing in a more vulnerable manner then most of her fans are probably used to. Even the first single, “Hands Clean”, keeps this vibe going. Admittedly, musically it is slightly upbeat, but lyrically it is still singing about a very real relationship that she was in that ended badly, but it is shown in a different light due to her switching between his perspective and her own.
The only real flaws to be found on this album are the first two tracks. The first track, “21 Things I want in a Lover”, comes off as slightly messy in her vocal delivery, and musically doesn’t offer anything special compared to the later tracks. The second track, “Narcissus” fares slightly better due to the rhythmic way that she delivers the verses, but the chorus is simply horrible. Her vocals become processed in a way that make them sound like a chipmunk singing out of key; I don’t know who thought that it could be a good idea to do that, but they were wrong. The only other redeeming factor for some would be that lyrically it is another “empowering” song where she rips on a guy that she sees as full of himself.
If you’re a big fan of Alanis Morissette, then I might not be the authority you want to listen to on this album, because, for me, this is the only release she’s ever had that I thought was good. On the other hand, if you like artists like Sarah Mclachlan or Lene Marlin
, and found Alanis’ other albums too mainstream and shallow both musically and lyrically, then you may, as I did, end up pleasantly surprised by the quality of this release.