ALANIS MORISSETTE: FLAVORS OF ENTANGLEMENT (2008)
1) Citizen Of The Planet; 2) Underneath; 3) Straitjacket; 4) Versions Of Violence; 5) Not As We; 6) In Praise Of The Vulnerable Man; 7) Moratorium; 8) Torch; 9) Giggling Again For No Reason; 10) Tapes; 11) Incomplete; 12*) Orchid; 13*) The Guy Who Leaves; 14*) Madness; 15*) Limbo No More; 16*) On The Tequila.
After a four-year, relatively secluded, break, only interrupted by the release of Jagged Little Pill Acoustic in 2005 (which is more or less what it is, an unplugged revision of her fading moment of glory, and hardly deserves a special review), Alanis has returned to the studio in an attempt to update and polish her image. With an entirely new team of musicians, led by producer Guy Sigsworth and «programmer guitarist» Andy Page, she is ready to strive for hipness once again.
Her team's understanding of hipness, however, means basically one thing: make the album a technophile's dream. Half, if not more, of the songs are stuffed with «look at us, we are so sci-fi» electronic farts, and some are driven by mid-tempo techno beats — all of a sudden, Alanis declares that she actually loves to dance (yes, we know, Ms. Morissette, we did see you in those compromising videos from 1992) and that no dance fan will be disappointed with her new record.
On paper, a combination of pretentious lyrics, confessional attitude, and techno beats coming from the likes of Alanis sounds like the proverbial recipé for disaster. Think Madonna's Ray Of Light or something in the neighbourhood. Surprise: it is perfectly okay, no better and no worse than the average A. M. offering of the past ten years. The synthesized farts and programmed loops never detract from her standard hooks, in fact, they are somewhat refreshing after the uniform, monotonous production style of Under Rug Swept and So-Called Chaos.
In fact, the ugliest moment on the record is not even one centered on Electronica: it is '(Bring) On The Tequila', a dreadfully silly, campy attempt to write a song in the 'party pop' genre of the latest brand of idiot teen idols (Miley Cyrus, etc.) — I hope the intention was primarily parodic, but you can never tell with artists of Morissette's level, prone to chronic lapses of taste. Fortunately, it is only available as the final track on the «deluxe» 2-disc edition of the album, and need not infuriate the tastes of the average enlightened listener.
As for the techno-pop, 'Straitjacket' does suffer from being way too overtly commercial, but the electronification of her raga tendencies works better on 'Citizen Of The Planet', and even gets close to the level of intimidation on 'Versions Of Violence' (which I always keep hearing as 'Virgins Of Violence' — a great title for a cutting-edge animé series, I think, and the song would do great as the title track). Her gift for vocal hooks has not gone anywhere, and the production team never tries to shadow them, no matter how many side effects they cram in the mix.
Note, though, that once again the singles from the album were some of the least commercial tracks. 'Underneath' does have a danceable chorus, but its trendiness is strictly limited to ornamental electronic flourishes (that, moreover, seem to be played on an old Moog synth — trendy my ass!); 'In Praise Of The Vulnerable Man' is a catchy mid-tempo folk-rocker that failed to chart completely, maybe because of the awful title and lyrics (no man would buy a single with such a title ever, no woman who's got a man would buy such a single under the risk of losing the man, and no woman who hasn't got a man would buy it — because what's the fucking point?); and 'Not As We' is a piano ballad, and not a very good one at that (try as she might, Alanis will never become a Tori Amos, so why even bother?).
This is odd: even as we see Alanis trying to break back into the stream of public conscience, she is at the same time intentionally sabotaging her commercial fortunes. It is non-trivial, and, from a certain point of view, respectable; but my taste-o-meter still goes low on the mercury level, indicating that Ms. Morissette's ambitions are still the same — to be perceived as a Soul-Baring Serious Artist rather than the averagely pleasing pop songwriter that she really is. I cannot even reach a judgement, what with the brain and heart departments locked in a stalemate over the thumbs' position. In any case, if you are a committed fan, you will love Flavors Of Entanglement; if you are not, the album probably only deserves a «curio listen».