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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Alanis Morissette: Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie


1) Front Row; 2) Baba; 3) Thank U; 4) Are You Still Mad; 5) Sympathetic Character; 6) That I Would Be Good; 7) The Couch; 8) Can't Not; 9) UR; 10) I Was Hoping; 11) One; 12) Would Not Come; 13) Unsent; 14) So Pure; 15) Joining You; 16) Heart Of The House; 17) Your Congratulations.

So, before we proceed to discussion, here are the Google statistics as of December 12, 2009: [1] the correct way — Morissette: 1,560,000 results; [2] Morisette: 367,000; [3] Morrisette: 263,000; [4] Morrissette: 109,000; [5] Morissete: 52,000; [6] Morrisete: 29,000; [7] Morris­sete: 11,200; [8] Morisete: 19,600. (Of course, many of these are just bot copy results, but it is the relative statistics that matters, not the absolute numbers).

The conclusion is that about a third of people writing about A. M. do not even know how to spell her name properly. Of course, it is a rather hard name to spell (trickier even than Mississippi, where one just has to remember the «two of each» rule), but still, you'd expect a bit more attention paid to such a household item. Or, perhaps, it is just the name — misspelt — that is a household item, and not the music? How many people have written about A. M. without actually listening to her (as opposed to without hearing her, which is more or less impossible)?

I cannot say that Morissette's follow-up to her major commercial success is a "great" album. I cannot say that I love it, or that I will ever have a big desire to return and explore it some more. But it was Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, not Jagged Little Pill, that finally convinced me that there is artistic merit to this girl's work. For all its flaws, Pill was not a hollow forgery — but this is best evident only after listening to the next in line. It is no coincidence that Alanis ne­ver managed to surpass the "triumph" of Pill: not only are her subsequent records sounding more and more "out of date", but they are actually sounding less and less market-oriented.

Junkie is a tremendously long, horrendously brooding, and emphatically personal record that, first and foremost, is dedicated to growing up. Once you spot the ugly horse grin on the cover, the first thought is that you will probably be subjected to even more screeching and caterwauling than last time, but the intention is rather... 'Ironic': in fact, Alanis is much more restrained and much more oriented towards a conventional understanding of 'singing' here (from time to time, with a little Indian flavor she somehow picked up over the last three years — uh, possibly as a result of her visit to India?).

More importantly, she overcomes her major weakness — inane lyrics. It is still easy to sneer at all the different, yet equally obvious ways in which she blows up her rather simple emotions; it is more difficult to admit that she has at least advanced to the stage at which she is implicit rather than explicit about it. The encription is not very difficult, but it needs to be broken; certainly a chorus like 'Thank you India, thank you terror, thank you disillusionment, thank you frailty, thank you consequence...' is more deserving of notice than 'I've got one hand in my pocket and the other one is giving a high five'. Or so it would seem.

The music is a more difficult matter. Brushing away occasionally silly critical raves ('Wow, she is writing pop songs without choruses, whoever heard of that?'), we are left with a gloomy mix of "alternative rock" with "adult contemporary", thick on atmosphere and personality, but generally thin on hooks. There are even Goth overtones on some of the numbers: Alanis is certainly intent on letting us know either that success has not gone to her head and that she has no desire to im­per­sonate a pop-rock diva, or, perhaps, more cynically, that the very success she has earned was entirely due to her neuroses, so next time around, she is happy to heap even more of those on the listener. You want trouble? You got it.

Just like before, the main problems are with the basics of the arrangements. Same boring funky beats, same lack of detail, same moribund guitar backing — a few of the riffs are good, but for the most part, they are just grumbling away in the background. Add to this the seventy-plus mi­nute length, and it becomes a real chore to sit through all of this, especially since midway through you clearly begin to understand that no, you are not getting much of anything else. For a long time, this effect prevented me from seeing 'Joining You' as the catchiest song on the album, or 'Heart Of The House' as the song with the best strings arrangement. Alas, she is still letting Glen Ballard have control of the situation, and these are the results: she has unquestionably grown up, but he has, most definitely, nowhere left to grow.

All the same, I think that 'Baba', even with all the pretentiousness and with all the grungeness, is a powerful tune; that 'That I Would Be Good' is the best Diane Warren song that Diane Warren, fortunately, never wrote (or else I would have to reluctantly pray that her approved billion years on the fry­ing pan be reduced by a few months); that the lyrical concept of 'Unsent' is pretty clever; and that I fully understand why Robert Christgau gave this record an A- as opposed to Jagged Lit­tle Pill's B+, but have no idea why he gave Aimee Mann's Lost In Space — an album that is thematically not that far removed from Junkie, but musically surpasses it in every way known to mankind — a C+.

My own verdict would be that the whole thing is monotonous but mildly intelligent; musically poor but perfectly honest; conventional but desperately trying to overcome conventionality, and for all these counterpoints, first time in this section, I would deal it out a cautious emotional-ratio­nal thumbs up. But prepare to be bored stiff.

1 comment:

  1. The most important thing about this album is that it contains possibly one of the worst lyrics ever written, in the song Thank you:

    "How about them transparent dangling carrots"

    If that's not abysmal, I don't know what is.