It’s been 25 years since Canadian rock singer Alanis Morissette rocked the world with the ‘unjudged and uncensored’ release of her international debut album “Jagged Little Pill” in 1995 that sold over 33 million copies worldwide. The raw and so-called ‘stream-of-conscious’ way of writing with famous producer Glen Ballard created timeless hits such as “You Oughta Know”, “Ironic”, and “Head over Feet” that – according to Alanis – careened right through her that she after recording even rarely remembered herself writing the song’s lyrics. Described as a ‘permission giver record’ to feel feelings and anger, it was created in the midst of Alanis leaving her label MGM Records where her dance-pop and only in Canada released albums “Alanis” (1991) and “Now Is the Time” (1992) deemed her “the Debbie Gibson of Canada” but with less personal content. The release from MGM and move to Los Angeles then made Alanis go in soldier mode with first no label and the idea that there’s nothing to lose, then in a steady but also fast pace became a 90s rock sensation for a new generation of female rock singers. Many albums and hits continued thereafter, including 1998s follow up album “Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie” that featured the Grammy-winning lead single “Thank U” – noticeable for the music video where Alanis walks around nude in public locations. Her direct approach about life, relationships and self-discovery carried on in the 2000s with her albums “Under Rug Swept” (2002), “So-Called Chaos” (2004) and “Flavors of Entanglement” (2008), and followed up her outspokenness in singles like “Hands Clean” and “Everything”, then in between releasing her greatest hits “The Collection” in 2005, including a cover version release of Seal’s hit “Crazy”.
Now, it’s been eight years since her last LP “Havoc and Bright Lights” in 2012, which was her first out of her long-time label Maverick Records into a new deal with Collective Sounds and then later Thirty Tigers – an entertainment company for artists who retain ownership and control over their career choices. For an outspoken Alanis, it’s no wonder her independence and individuality took over in her business and thus opens up a book about her current state of mind in her new release. Though in between co-created the musical Jagged Little Pill, named after her ‘95 album and featuring music from her career, she rather took the time off to focus on her kids and family which is also partly the theme of her new album “Such Pretty Forks in the Road”: The ups and downs of motherhood, but also reveals the postpartum depression she suffered after the birth of her kids, as well as anxiety attacks she had after her third born. The opener track “Smiling” – one of the new songs written for the Broadway adaptation of Jagged Little Pill – sets a sad and hopeless mood that likely connects with the depression she experienced but most importantly reminds the listener of her strength to “keep on smiling”. The mood then notably gets more up in the second track “Ablaze”, an ode to her kids, and feels like walking a staircase from a sad “Smiling” to a more uplifting direction, expressing in the lyrics how “this cord is unbreakable”. The supporting music video underlines the message of the reflective “Ablaze” where Alanis looks into a life-sized microscope watching her three kids play together, including with their parents – Alanis herself and husband and rapper Mario Treadway aka Souleye.
Even though “Ablaze” gives hope for steady emotions, the rest of the album, however, stays bitter. Like a poet she describes her inner pain with somber tones and dramatic themes like in “Reckoning” (“You didn’t know the house was on fire”) and in spiritual “Her” where she sings about lying on the floor, feeling the depth of her sadness. The described pain is then centered in “Diagnosis”. As the title goes, it’s analyzing the moment she had her diagnosis and reveals her mental state. The piano-driven song gives a sad and almost depressing tone in the verses, but turns from fragile to ‘whatever’ mode in the hook by exclaiming “Call it what you want!”, then tells the listener that even though everyone tries to help her she is “alone in this meltdown”. The ‘whatever’ emotions that’s heard in “Diagnosis” is continued in “Sandbox Love” where Alanis creates a love song with explicit lyrics, dropping the f-bomb multiple times though tickles out a freer version of herself, as the song is one of the rare happy and more carefree moments of the album. Further explanation of her state of mind is then given in tracks like “Missing the Miracle” describing how one has another view than the other, but in between – in Alanis poetic words – missing the miracle (“You see the figure skater, I fear the ice is thin”).
As almost the entire tracklist of “Such Pretty Forks in the Road” has mellow melodies that makes it hard for the songs to stand out from one another, it’s one track in particular, the lead single “Reasons I Drink”, that is able to emerge from the rest – with rhythmic piano keys and drums to snap your fingers to. In the music video, Alanis plays the organizer of a support group, and some of the attendees turn out to be reflective personas of Alanis herself – the ‘unkept tired mother’, the Alanis who’s known in the public and one in a red cap reminiscent of her looks in the “Ironic” video. Behind the “Ironic”–Alanis, a man dies in the room who’s later put into a coffin. A mortician then puts his hand on her shoulder for sympathy, but Alanis moves her shoulder away in disinterest (or disbelief), refusing to grief. This moment is speculated by fans to represent how her career peak is behind her, and the amount of pressure she was on to make a “Jagged Little Pill 2.0”. Whatever it may be, the song also represents her broken soul in the lyrics (“These are the reasons I drink / The reasons I tell everybody I’m fine even though I am not”). But, as mentioned earlier about the album’s content, the ‘whatever’ part of Alanis still sticks out whenever possible: “And so that’s it, I am buying a Lamborghini / To make up for these habits, to survive this sick industry.”
Alanis – known as the loud rock chick from the 90s – shifted to lighter tones throughout the years, with piano in the foreground in her recent LP. As she’s known to create music from scratch, the shift may be subconscious and paints the picture of her current self. The change of tone reflects maturity and is also heard in her tone of voice which slightly changed with mature undertones in recent years. And even though her trueness to herself and her music can be applauded, the dark and mellow atmosphere throughout the album misses a spark here and there. However, tracks like “Losing the Plot” and “Nemesis” still dare to step out with unexpected heavier rock instrumentals. The former in particular sounds like a movie scene as if she struggles to climb a mountain during a snowstorm, figuratively. Speaking of which, Alanis’ poetic writing style often is aligned with figurative speech like in album closer “Pedestal” (“As this pedestal crumbles down and crashes me to the ground”) and loves to use fancy words where you sometimes have to open a dictionary for the exact meaning. To sum it up, an album where she pours her heart out, but also an album where it’s difficult to find instant hits. “Reasons I Drink” comes close and connects with classics like “Thank U”. It does, however, feel as if Alanis was aiming for something else, and just like in previous albums took the opportunity to exorcise her demons. Therefore, the goal for creating relatable content seemed more crucial than the next big song on the charts.
Full Track List:
Reasons I Drink
Missing the Miracle
Losing the Plot