ALANIS MORISSETTE: UNPLUGGED (1999)
1) You Learn; 2) Joining You; 3) No Pressure Over Cappuccino; 4) That I Would Be Good; 5) Head Over Feet; 6) Princes Familiar; 7) I Was Hoping; 8) Ironic; 9) These R The Thoughts; 10) King Of Pain; 11) You Oughta Know; 12) Uninvited.
It is theoretically likeable, this session. Alas, it does not improve much on the biggest thing it could improve upon. Considering that Morissette's full-band rock arrangements are one of the weakest spots on her studio albums, one could hope that getting rid of dreary, boring «alt-rock» guitars and dehumanized, depressing percussion would make her material more fresh and exciting. It does not.
If anything, the only reason why Unplugged could merit consideration is Alanis' curious restraint and even a bit of «delicacy» that she gives her listeners by not overscreaming, not even on such screamfests as 'You Oughta Know'. It may not always be evident that she is an excellent singer when her bratty attitude overshadows her vocal talent, but on Unplugged, there is no bratty attitude whatsoever. Of course, for some fans that would only make things more boring.
To comment on the musical aspects of this session would be missing the point — Morissette's music was never about any sort of instrumental melodies in the first place, and here, her band is only to provide a properly atmospheric setting for her seriously self-sustained seance of soul survival. She only serves a small helping of hits from Pill (I could easily live without 'Ironic', but three cheers for changing the vocal melody of the formerly grating chorus), goes heavier on Junkie material, and introduces three entirely new songs that have passed me by completely, although 'Princes Familiar' is supposed to be a very important tune on a personal level.
It's all okay, going by gently and with relatively little pretense, but in order to really enjoy this, you have to adore Alanis Morissette as an extraordinary individual with a deeply idiosyncratic vision rather than a pop performer (for the latter purpose, studio records will suffice completely). And it is very hard for some of us to do just that — certainly not with moves so blatantly obvious as choosing, for your obligatory tribute to your influences, Sting's 'King Of Pain', and even redoing the hookline as 'I'll always be queen of pain'. She is so admirably «honest» about everything she does, I think I'm going to be sick.
First-rate singing, second-rate playing, thoughtful song selection, moderate hooks on every corner, tortured soul in abundance, all of this comes together in a depressing thumbs down that the brain had only just time enough to signal to the heart before lapsing in a coma. I envy you if you have a greater tolerance level for such sanitized atmosphere.