Alanis Morissette was famous for being angry. For her legions of young female fans in the Nineties, her third album Jagged Little Pill was an outlet for their own rage – rage they’d been forced to swallow on too many occasions. For certain critics, it was emblematic of “feminist hysteria”, to which they responded with derision and mockery. She didn’t mind. “If I were to be violently and rudely one-dimensionalised the way that was happening during that time,” she said in a recent interview with The Independent, “I’ll take anger. I think anger is pretty amazing.”
But Such Pretty Forks in the Road, her first album in eight years, is less a diatribe than a post-mortem – a one-woman dissection of breakdowns, addiction, insomnia, depression and motherhood. She sings with a profound matter-of-factness while demonstrating the full power of her unmistakeable voice, making for one of her best-ever records.
Having Jagged Little Pill adapted as a stage musical seems to have influenced the jaunty piano chords and narrative storytelling on “Reasons I Drink”. Morissette emulates Broadway veteran Idina Menzel, belting the chorus then plunging down to her deepest register. The result is thrilling. The song itself is an astonishingly candid exploration of why people turn to substance abuse or other kinds of addiction; she doesn’t attempt to offer a solution, only a plea for understanding.
Morissette has spoken in recent interviews about suffering from post-partum depression, and doesn’t shy away from the topic here either. “Ablaze”, a highlight on an album of highlights, is devastating and visceral, bringing in biblical imagery to explore the unbreakable bond between mother and child. “My mission is to keep the light in your eyes ablaze,” she sings to her son. “I am here hell or high water,” she tells her daughter. “Diagnosis”, with its mournful violins, is the relief that comes with being able to put a name to a previously indescribable condition.
Each song on the record has been produced with the utmost care, aided by producers Alex Hope (Troye Sivan, Carly Rae Jepsen) and Catherine Marks (Foals, The Big Moon). You can feel the weight of the piano keys and sense the reverb on the mic, or its absence when Morissette lays her isolated vocals bare to stunning effect on “Her”. Opener “Smiling” nods to Radiohead’s “My Iron Lung”; Morissette’s lilting vocal melody in particular recalls Thom Yorke’s keening falsetto.
“Nemesis” is a bold venture away from the relatively simple instrumentation that forms most of the album. It plays out like a dance track, unfurling with dramatic drum rolls into a pulsing rhythm with spaghetti Western flourishes. With the orchestral closer “Pedestal”, she offers a ruthless anatomy of her own insecurities, convinced her partner will eventually stop craving her. Morissette was perennially undervalued at the height of her fame. Let's hope the same doesn't happen with this superb album.
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