Like scrunchies and Clarissa Explains It All, Alanis Morissette is an integral part of the '90s.
The Canadian singer/songwriter's enjoyed a solid eight-album career, but there's no denying that she peaked with 1995's seminal Jagged Little Pill. A more pop-minded Exile in Guyville or a grunge-lite update on Blood on the Tracks, it's a remarkable collection that's held up for 17 years, a Top 40 record packed with genuine human emotion.
Of course, the casual Alanis Morissette fan may be surprised to learn that Jagged Little Pill is her third album. The stuff before was grunge, right? Or maybe she was a riot grrl? Nope: She was a teenage pop star much like a real-life Robin Sparkles, imitating Paula Abdul on records like Alanis and Now Is the Time. The records sound nothing like the angst-y or hippie-ish Morissette that American audiences have grown accustomed to.
And neither really got her that far outside of the Great White North. After Now Is the Time, Morissette started spending time in Los Angeles, where she was robbed. This incident left a mark, along with relationship woes (involving a certain Full House cast member? We may never know) but she funneled it all into Jagged Little Pill, creating one of the greatest breakup albums of all time.
Case in point: "You Oughta Know." The lyrics are brutal, as a scorned Alanis resentfully sings, "Every time I scratch my nails down someone else's back I hope you feel it." Her voice sounds vicious, and it doesn't hurt that Dave Navarro and Flea (of Red Hot Chili Peppers/Jane's Addiction/being married to Carmen Electra fame) were guest musicians on the track. The '90s were a time for female empowerment, and Morissette was all about it. Gals wore their sweaters backwards and inside out without worry, and it was fine for ladies to be broke and happy, lost and hopeful, and young and underpaid, because everything will be fine, fine, fine (the lesson I gleaned from "One Hand in My Pocket").
And then there was her megahit, the surprisingly unironic song "Ironic." It may pop into your head every time a wedding gets rained out or some quirky girl sings in the car, but at least College Humor got it right. Three years later, she released Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, which was darker than Pill and was heavily influenced by a spiritual trip to India. She got naked in "Thank You" and later released "Uninvited," an epic and somewhat scary song for the City of Angels soundtrack. It sounds a bit like the intense song from 28 Days Later, so I guess what I'm trying to say is that Nicolas Cage should have starred in a zombie movie (and I feel there's hope that will happen one day).
Alanis Morissette also had a cameo appearance as God in Dogma, which sparked her acting career. She since has had miscellaneous roles in Weeds and a Lifetime original movie.
Morissette's most recent album, 2008's Flavors of Engagement reaches back to her dance-pop roots with an earthy feel that nobody but her could pull off. It's good, but it sounds nothing like Jagged Little Pill, but it also doesn't really sound like Alanis or Now Is the Time, either. Alanis continues evolving from album to album, so it will be interesting to see where she goes for her new album, Havoc and Bright Lights, to be released August 22.
Morissette seems happy these days, and I have to give her that. Her breakthrough record was fueled by rage and sadness, and while that makes for lots of great art, it doesn't exactly make for great living.
You could say she could have quit while she was ahead, but in spite of a few mediocre albums, she continues to write new music, tour, and essentially do her own thing. Morissette has outlived the haters and the '90s, and most importantly, the public's expectations of her.
But Jagged Little Pill, that adult work of desperation and heartbreak, remains the soundtrack to my youth. Isn't that ironic? No seriously, is it?