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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Alanis Morissette: Under Rug Swept


1) 21 Things I Want In A Lover; 2) Narcissus; 3) Hands Clean; 4) Flinch; 5) So Unsexy; 6) Precious Illusions; 7) That Particular Time; 8) A Man; 9) You Owe Me Nothing In Return; 10) Surrendering; 11) Utopia.

There is A LOT of different words on this album. Each and every single song, from top to bottom, filled with endless, endless, endless verbosity, prolixity, garrulity, loquacity. And it is not over after the last sounds have died down, because there is about half a billion additional interviews, grandly flashing «Alanis Morissette Talks About Songs From Under Rug Swept!» at you.

Do not, therefore, make the big mistake of judging this album based on its lyrics, or even of dis­cussing its lyrics, no matter how this unbelievable logorrhea goads you into committing it. Con­fucius say, «Little man be guided by deep meaning in Alanis Morissette songs, big man jack off in bathroom instead». I am not saying that all the words here are necessarily awful; as a third-rate poet, Morissette is improving with each year, and by now, she can at least make sure that her words will never spoil the cumulative effect. It is just that their overall quantity and density — sometimes she almost borders on rapping, so much there is that she needs to tell you in five seconds' time — may, and will, hide the real value of the album.

This is her first record without Ballard's involvement, and, although I was not sure at first, after a few listens I am convinced that it works better. The arrangements still define «bland», but there are no conscious attempts at «toughening» the sound by overloading it with generic «alt-rock» trappings. It looks like she cares about the melodies, but does not give a damn about dressing them up, relying on any spontaneous combination of lead instruments and rhythm section that happens to materialize at any given moment. For a great artist, this would be suicide, but for an openly mediocre one, this is a very wise decision — one should never tell a mediocre artist that song so-and-so needs more cowbell. That is one sure way to spell disaster.

So the electric guitars still sound like shit, and the rhythm section still sounds like she downloa­ded most of these tracks from a South Korean musical site for $0.11 each, but the melodies — in general — are nice. '21 Things I Want In A Lover' (yes, she lists all of them) and 'You Owe Me Nothing In Return' are two of the catchiest pop-rockers she ever put up for us. 'Flinch' is her pret­tiest acoustic «ditty» so far. 'That Particular Time' is the kind of pompous, but deeply emotional ballad that Diane Warren might have written, were she a real human being instead of a devasta­ting biological weapon that somehow slipped past the Geneva convention. And her near-falsetto singing on 'Utopia' closes the record on an almost Enya-like note, awaking the romantic in those of us who are not yet completely jaded and, perhaps, not even making him regret the awakening.

Of course, the lead single from the album had to be one of its least impressive tracks — 'Hands Clean', probably because it has the highest density of words per second (but nothing like a truly catchy chorus). Maybe some of the critics were impressed, because it gave them so many points to latch on to, but the public clearly was not, and, anyway, with Under Rug Swept it became ob­vious that Alanis' days as a big pop star were clearly past her: the record made a very brief stay at No. 1, and, up to this day, has only been certified platinum once (compared to thrice for Junkie and sixteen times — sic! — for Jagged Little Pill).

I do not think, though, that the reaction came as a shock or disappointment to Alanis, and it is quite likely that the results, for her, were quite predictable. There was no huge marketing cam­paign, no conscious attempt to «rejuvenate» or «modernize» her image for the masses, not even a nationwide broadcast duet with Christina Aguilera. This is certainly mainstream, generic, and ac­cessible stuff, but it does not scream «buy me, I'm cool!» at the average market-goer, and most people probably bought it because the memories were still relatively fresh. But fade out the con­text, and you may end up like me, thinking of the album as Alanis' strongest mediocre offering to date and easily giving it a thumbs up, even despite the sadistic stream of consciousness.

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