REVIEW:Pop Alanis Morissette Subterrania, London

The story goes that Madonna's debut gig in London was snubbed by most of the journalists who now claim to have been in attendance. So let me get in here quick: I was at the first British show of the 20-year- old Canadian singer Alanis Morissette last week. The connection isn't entirely spurious - Morissette has been signed up by the Queen of Pop for her record label, Maverick. And she, too, is fast gaining notoriety more for her provocative nature than her music: the risque lyrics to her song "You Oughta Know" - "Is she perverted like me?/ Would she go down on you in a theatre?" - precede her everywhere, not least when she feels like taking in a show.

So, for the record, I was there. And boy, was it almost something. Morissette was unrecognisable at first. Not shorter or fatter than you imagined, just pinker. She doesn't need to pull on a punky wig and slope around the stage like Quasimodo to convince us that she's potty (just playing something from her album, Jagged Little Pill, would have sufficed). But she did it anyway, at least for the opening song. Her band - hunky, lantern- jawed surfers to a dude - looked on while she threw herself about as though trying to escape an invisible straitjacket. Something glinted up her sleeve. A cut-throat razor? No: just a harmonica, with which she then proceeded to wreak more damage than a razor could ever have done.

It was a startling beginning - the couples in the balcony clutched each other for dear life, and even the band looked wary, plodding along obediently with their instruments while Morissette took a magic carpet ride with every blast of her harmonica. And she hadn't even sung a note yet.

She's undoubtedly gifted, though at times during the show you wondered if she quite knows what to do with those gifts. Her voice is exact and unpredictable: she can swing from coarse Joan Jett-isms to a passable Edie Brickell impersonation in the space of one verse. Unfortunately, the lumpen backing never makes the parallel progression from Blackhearts to New Bohemians. That first number, "All I Really Want", wasn't just remarkable for the wig and harmonica: it was the only song that truly bristled with danger. Morissette's voice swam up and down the register like a tadpole with an outboard motor, while the brittle guitars chiselled away underneath her. Once it ended and the wig came off, the mood turned serene, and we could have been listening to Lisa Loeb or Tori Amos or any other pleasantly unhinged singer with a head full of Sylvia Plath. But don't judge Morissette too harshly. There was the germ of something twisted and magical in the performance. Give it 10 years and you might just be claiming you were there.

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