Jagged Little Pill – Alanis Morissette

Jagged Little Pill

The album that kick started a million girl with guitar imitators, faux-feminist artists, and brutally honest young things turned out to be one of the biggest selling and best albums of the decade. Alanis had been making music for quite some time, but it wasn’t until she met Glen Ballard and was messing in the studio with this, pouring all her angst, guilt, anger, pain and love out in a unique and frank manner that people began to notice. A few notable big names heard what she was doing, liked it, and helped out in turn creating a word of mouth which would help to create a monster. In truth all the guest musicians have little or no impact here, it is all about Alanis; her words, her music, her feelings her life. We got a fascinating insight into this woman, just an ordinary person who was going through the same trials as the rest of us, except she was belting out these experiences with her heart on her sleeve and her hand in her pocket. Alanis has produced some great stuff since, but nothing has ever come close to the coherence and quality of this album. It had been a while since the pop world had any intelligent, strong music from a woman- the 80s and early nineties were full of pretty throwaway pop mistresses or big breasted nobodies, and sadly it has since gone the same way. For a while though a generation was given a new voice; relive those days with this timeless classic.
`All I Really Want’ opens the album to the strains of a harmonica and some commercial grunge style chords. It introduces so Alanis’ powerful, broken vocals, ear for a catchy melody, and cynical lyrics. She sings of her frustration of love, of independence, and sets the tone for the rest of the album. She doesn’t hold back but makes sure everything is tuneful enough and human enough that we can both hum along and empathize.
`You Oughta Know’ is an all together much darker and angrier song, full of spite, honesty, and the release of freedom. Pop audiences were shocked by such harsh words coming from a nice little Canadian girl, opening the gates for a flood of imitators. Those of us who could understand caught on immediately, and it didn’t take long for others to start singing along and buying. Flea and Navarro add drums and guitar and give the song much desired alternative credentials. This still stands as one of the defining songs of the nineties, along with a couple of others on the album.
`Perfect’ at first glance is much more soft and soothing until we hear the cynical lyrics of pushy parents, failure etc building to an over the top, wailing crescendo of brilliance. Alanis shifts easily from gentle vocals to all out screams, both ends of the spectrum are spine tingling and the lyrics are often brilliant.
`Hand In My Pocket’ is another iconic 90s song with a familiar intro and chorus. Alanis’ lyrics are inventive juxtapositions, singing of defiance and independence, self mockery and hope, and the music is endlessly catchy. Again the guitars mix well with harmonica and her voice shines through- just edgy enough to satisfy the alternatives and cynics, just commercial enough to please millions.
`Right Through You’ begins quite softly, gradually getting heavier and again showcasing Alanis’ anger for those who have wronged her. She may have been on the end of a lot of pain and laughter throughout various relationships but here she tells those that need to know that she has come out on top. This is a lesser known track on the album, but just as good as everything else.
`Forgiven’ is a tirade against organized religion, in this Catholicism and all the guilt and self hatred that can come from having forced upon you. Alanis sings of growing up surrounded by strict measures and a blind necessity to cling to something. The music is fairly heavy to mirror the lyrics and the anger behind them. This, along with Head Over Feet is probably my favourite song on the album.
`You Learn’ was another hit for Alanis, a song portraying her new-age views on life following several traumatic events prior to the album. Self-deprecating yet self freeing she is admitting to us and herself that even good comes from bad and that each experience is all part of the craziness of life. The music has more of a dance beat than the rest of album and the chorus is fairly anthemic. This and MJ are my least favourite songs here, they are notably softer and I think lack the melody of others.
`Head Over Feet’ is my favourite song on the album- perfect pop, eternally catchy with nice lyrics, and a break from the anger. It is well structured, the harmonica makes another appearance and again manages to not be annoying. Most people think of Ironic when they speak of this album, but this is the one I will always come back to.
`Mary Jane’ is my least favourite song, not because I think it’s a bad song, I don’t find the melodies as engaging or the song as memorable as others. Alanis sings well as always, the music is quite light, and the lyrics are ok. It is a bit overlong for a song with quite a simple melody and I would usually skip it, but I’m sure it is someone’s favourite.
`Ironic’ was the big hit which turned Alanis into a superstar, leading millions to sing along, and the odd unfortunate intellectual to moan about appropriate use of the title word. It is basically a commercial grunge song following the quiet verse, loud chorus format, but works because it is performed with great passion, has witty lyrics no matter which way you look at it, and has one of the most memorable choruses of the decade.
`Not The Doctor’ is another track which people ten to forget about, a catchy and clever song where Alanis bemoans clingy partners. Again it follows the soft-heavy-soft format, the lyrics are more interesting than the music but the succession of chords fit the words fine.
`Wake Up’ closes the album (except those with the extra tracks), a well produced song which not many speak of. The riffs and style in which Alanis sings lend a dark tone before the brilliant bridge and chorus, making it one of my favourites. The extended ending is also excellent and can be read as a message to the listener to Wake Up and question everything, drop passive behaviour, be independent, and think for themselves.
`Your House’ is a powerful acapella song where Alanis sings of betrayal and discovering that she is being cheated on. There is irony and guilt as she blames herself showing one of the many dark sides of love, her voice is very strong and she sings with a raw honesty and powerful emotion.
Most people who grew up or were a teen in the nineties will probably own this album- in fact most people who existed in the nineties probably have it going by the sales. With so many great songs this is understandable and for those who don’t have it or know it, it is an important cultural slice of the decade. Before all the cheap manufactured rubbish of girl power (which seemed to equate to the power of wearing no clothes) this was a shining light for intelligent music regardless of gender. Even if you end up hating it, this is still essential listening.

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One thought on “Jagged Little Pill – Alanis Morissette

  1. John S April 18, 2012 / 11:40 pm

    Great review of a great album. She lost credibility a bit in time, but agree this was the inspiration for a lot of music that followed.

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