CANADA: Jagged Little Pill - Alanis Morissette
Updated: Jan 20, 2021
Non-conformist, raw, and overtly '90s in its style, Morissette’s lyrics still bear immense relevance today in the 'MeToo' era
Typically on Around the World in 200 Albums we address artists that are not so well-known in the Western world, however, we are nonetheless looking for the best album from each country and were we to not take into account Morissette’s revolutionary album when looking at artists from Canada, it would be a truly reprehensible act. Her energy as well as her style would today be deemed as still somewhat unique, yet at the time, in 1995 when this album was released, it was basically unheard of to have an album speak so explicitly of female disillusionment both in the tone her voice and within her lyrics. This is despite the fact that musically the album has a very distinctively '90s sound.
“Her candour in everything that she expresses is heroic, especially when it is considered that this track does not suit bigwigs in the music industry who have for decades marketed female artists a certain way and who may likely hold grudges against her for this in the future.”
It is arguable that Jagged Little Pill paved the way for the likes of Avril Lavigne and Beyoncé to produce records that express female empowerment without the fear of backlash or ridicule. Morissette set an example to women and girls across the world not to be scared to express frustrations at the patriarchal system that holds them back, in much the same way as male punk rockers have been singing about their alienation with certain aspects of society for decades beforehand. This fearlessness is detected throughout and is ultimately what I believe the album should be commended for. Whilst I do see a glaringly obvious criticism with the length of this album which I will briefly address before I get into the intricacies of why this is an amazing album, overall, nothing can take away from the courage that emanates from each song on this album.
For me, I believe that the best albums are not necessarily always those that are overflowing with amazing songs. This is exactly my problem with Prince’s Sign “O” The Times in that there is just too much musical quality to process, that halfway through I am left with a headache and feeling not sufficiently intelligent to digest his music. For me, Jagged Little Pill suffers from the same problem. The songs are incredibly emotive and powerful, however, after even five songs I was starting to feel overwhelmed by the rawness of her music, and I felt like I was not given a moment to digest her lyrics. Perhaps this was her intention, to cathartically vent out everything she was feeling. In one sense it is admirable, and is exactly why I think she is brilliant, because she is true to herself and is not curtailing to what the listener might be able to handle. By the same token, it seems a shame that I felt like I was left unable to fully absorb what she was singing about by the time Head Over Feet came to a close.
Therefore, I would say that I enjoyed the first half of the album more and will focus my review more on these songs, but that is not to undermine the latter tracks. Every song demonstrates an admirable audacity and the album is brimming to the edge with bangers, which all follow a similarly grungy tone to the first track All I Really Want. In this song, Morissette is wholly unapologetic about who she is and what she is seeking. She seems to imply that she knows her worth and this is validated again in the following song You Oughta Know, the ultimate bad break-up track in which she is cutting and direct about the anger that she feels towards her ex. She sings lyrics such as:
Does she know how you told me, you'd hold me until you died, 'til you died,
but you're still alive
Every time I scratch my nails down someone else's back I hope you feel it.
Well, can you feel it?
Both of these demonstrate the deep resentment and pain that she feels. Often in break-ups, the common wisdom is that the stronger person is the one who does not hold grudges or seek revenge, yet Morissette is quite forthright in showing her human flaws. This is somewhat refreshing, as the pity and disapproval she shows towards her ex encourages girls to call out bad behaviour instead of allowing the false narrative of ‘boys will boys’ to succeed, calling out male bullshit with lines such as “did you forget about me, Mr Duplicity”. On a side note, the instrumentation on this track absolutely rocks, and it is no surprise to learn that Flea and Dave Navarro from the Red Hot Chili Peppers play bass and guitar respectively.
The next track, Perfect, is arguably the most interesting lyrically. Depending on how you interpret it, it either speaks about the hypocrisies of conditional love parents or other authority figures can bestow, or it is about one's own internalised negativity and the pressure to do well, where one can find oneself in a losing a battle with one's own psyche to try and seek self-approval. Then comes my favourite track, Hand in My Pocket, an optimistic song in which Morissette expresses her confidence notwithstanding all of her frailties that she expresses. Her hypocrisies make her human, and therefore this is a relatable song for anyone who remains positive in spite of them. It is clear that she doesn’t suffer delusions of grandeur, despite her self-assurance, and with a talent like she has one cannot help but agree that Morissette is going to be more than “fine, fine, fine”. The track also contains a delightful harmonica cameo, which when done well I always appreciate.
Once again, the Canadian singer produces another belter of a track which contains a drum beat that I just love. Right Through You satirises men, and the patriarchy as a whole for seeing women as a sexual object above anything else. Even if I have not been on the receiving end of experiences that Morissette has had as a woman, due to being a white heterosexual male who has no frame of reference of being objectified in this way, I find the conviction in which sings incredibly jarring because it is all too believable. Her candour in everything that she expresses is heroic, especially when it is considered that this track does not suit bigwigs in the music industry who have for decades marketed female artists a certain way and who may likely hold grudges against her for this in the future. It starts off critiquing this formulaic behaviour that she has experienced from many men who have underestimated and sexually objectified her purely on the basis of her gender. However, she goes on to have the last laugh both lyrically and in the eventual success of this album.
You took me for a joke
You took me for a child
You took a long hard look at my ass
And then played golf for a while
Your shake just like a fish
You pat me on the head
You took me out to wine dine, sixty-nine me
But didn't hear a damn word I said
Oh, hello, Mr. Man
You didn't think I'd come back
You didn't think I'd show up with my army
And this ammunition on my back
Now that I'm Miss Thing
Now that I'm a zillionaire
You scan the credits for your name
And wonder why it's not there
In terms of the rest of the album, Forgiven starts slow, but soon evolves into her unique sound that she has already established in the previous tracks. You Learn has got a great catchy chorus and an interesting R&B beat to start with. Head Over Feet is a rather beautiful song. It is her admittance that she enjoys falling in love if it is in a healthy relationship, despite her rebellious and independent image that she cultivated beforehand. The song expresses that she is entitled to experience falling madly in love, even if she has to drop this tough bravado that she has had to create to deal with previous bad relationships. It is quite endearing to hear her give herself permission to fall for somebody else after the car-crash of a breakup she seems to have gone through just a few tracks earlier. For me this would have been the perfect ending.
Nevertheless, even though I felt drained and had enough of the album by Mary Jane, it is still an interesting song that touches on some important themes. She sings about depression and specifically anorexia with the very powerful lyric “you’ve lost some weight, but who are you losing it for”. Overall it is undeniable that this is a massively accomplished album which touches on themes that a quarter of a century later are still relevant for many girls and women today. The rawness of her voice overshadows some excellent rock music, which is in itself a compliment. This balance of authenticity and artistry is something that many pop-rockers fail to achieve. Rather impressively, Morissette does it through her vulnerable and confessional style that appears believable and truthful throughout the entirety of the album, whilst still being full of tracks to which one can let loose and rock out, should they wish to do so.