Pop Live: Princess of pop psychology

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The Independent Culture
ALANIS MORISSETTE TELEWEST ARENA NEWCASTLE

ALANIS MORISSETTE has never been the British music critics' artist of choice: the combination of sanitised grunge rock and her studied psycho- drama lyrics bring little more than disdain from the weekly press. The monthly magazines, on the other hand, tip a reluctant cap in Morissette's direction, while still managing to squeeze in a few jokes about the singer's huge, made-for-Hollywood mouth and that seemingly overlong face.

Despite - and possibly as a direct result of - the media's reluctance to place her on any other pedestal than the one marked "token weirdo fool", Alanis Morissette sells enough records to wipe out a sizeable chunk of the Third World debt. The appeal, it would seem, is exactly what the press so mistrusts in her - that continuous need to wash her dirty psyche in public and wrap it up in cod intelligentsia styling.

When, on the bitter homage to failed relationships "You Outta Know", she asks "Did you forget about me, Mr Duplicity?", critics smirk while her public love it by the double-platinum bucket load. On "Thank U" - contender for the true Prozac anthem - she talks to the experiences of millions of people ("how 'bout getting off these antibiotics, how `bout stopping eating when I'm full up... how 'bout me not blaming you for everything"). She creates the perfect soundtrack to those tracts to self- absorption that are de rigueur on TV - programmes like Dawson's Creek or Ally McBeal, which display the conversion of mole hills into insurmountable mountains as real life.

So Ms Morissette has the common touch. But is this enough to simply write her off? Her ability to take everyday experience and apply daytime TV pop psychology is not unusual. But, as Wednesday night's opening date on her UK tour occasionally showed, that ability to transform such observations into addictive and insistent pop songs is rare. True, there's nothing clever about the music she makes. It comes from a long tradition - Rolling Stones via Sheryl Crow - but she is able to take enough pop suss from the gene pool to make her simple songs feel like instant classics. Just like the emotions Morissette luxuriates in, her songs are immediately naggingly familiar.

In the fullness of the show, however, Morissette's pop-rock touch is all too often lost amid a display of bombastic, sub-Led Zeppelin dynamics. On a stage decked out in tie-dyed Indian feather prints (resembling a kind of Laura Ashley meets Biba fashion show) Alanis stomps like a deranged, brattish princess at an Indie club.

Yet there's no denying her charismatic presence helps the songs emerge from the quagmire of rock noise. A point made painfully clear when she takes up the harmonica and breaks into a slowed down and spacious version of "Hand in My Pocket". One of a handful of enjoyable moments in a sadly forgettable performance.

A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper

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