Morissette’s mellower these days, but her music still packs potency.
Nick Levine 2012-08-24
The key to enjoying a new Alanis Morissette album is accepting that she'll never make another Jagged Little Pill.
That 12-song therapy session has sold over 33 million copies since 1995, and was a decade-defining record. When Morissette recorded it, she was a frustrated 20-year-old fuelled by a destructive relationship with a man she labelled "Mr Duplicity". Seventeen years later, she's married, a mother, and can apparently practise four different types of yoga.
Havoc and Bright Lights, her first album in four years, presents a generally mellower Morissette. However, that's not to say her music now lacks potency. Two decades into her recording career, she knows how to craft a catchy pop-rock song, though having Guy Sigsworth (Madonna, Britney Spears) as her co-writer must help.
Morissette also knows what she likes: Havoc and Bright Lights features the same range of sounds as all her post-Jagged Little Pill albums. There are 90s-style drum loops, mournful strings, heavy guitars on the choruses, dashes of light electronica, and some Middle Eastern flourishes.
Sometimes the production is too slick, but Morissette avoids blandness because she's so idiosyncratic. ‘Til You is a love song that features the phrase "research and develop" – surely a pop first. On Win and Win, where most might offer a trite sentiment about wanting to be close to their loved ones, Morissette sings: "I have yearnings to sit across from you."
Elsewhere, Numb has an opening gambit that could intimidate any therapist: "I feel smothered and encumbered and defeated and drawn / Disappointed, overextended and frustrated and shaken."
She may be mellower, but Morissette is still an emotional over-sharer. "Today's all about me, all about how I'm feeling," she sings at one point. But that's part of her charm, and she also looks outwards here: Lens wrestles with religion, while Celebrity sends up the fame game.
The latter features the album's most memorable Alanis-ism: "I am a tattooed sexy dancing monkey." It also has a conundrum that sums up her continued appeal. When she refers to LA as "this am-b****-ous city", is that dodgy wordplay, or just her unique diction? Some fans will argue it's both.