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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Alanis Morissette, "Jagged Little Pill"

Alanis Morissette
"Jagged Little Pill"
Maverick/Reprise (1995)

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die + 1000 Recordings You Should Hear Before You Die

First and foremost, you deserve at least a little credit for having five songs on one album that everyone has heard before. Such is the case for Alanis Morissette's "Jagged Little Pill" (the songs are "You Oughta Know," "Hand in My Pocket," "You Learn," "Head Over Feet" and "Ironic." You've heard them). As a result, the album was certified by Billboard as the best-selling album of the '90s (which makes it interesting that the New York Public Library system does not own one copy of it). Music critic overlord Robert Christgau wrote how it struck a chord with women everywhere, but it takes more than just female buyers to make you the best seller for a decade.

Everyone knows that Morissette is not the typical female pop star that emerged in the '90s. Lyrically, she wasn't sexy, and physically, well, we'll just say she wasn't a knockout like the Mariah Careys of the world. What's interesting is that her vocal talent wasn't making her a superstar either. Some listeners will just never be able to appreciate Morissette because of her abrasive (and rarely in tune) voice. Her annoying habit of releasing strings of notes in place of lyrics (see the bridge to "You Learn") doesn't help.

But then again, her voice is a weapon that makes her emotional songs resonate all the more. Angst is not a pretty sound. Angst is yelled, not crooned. Most associate Morissette with the prototypical "angry female" thanks to her biggest single, "You Oughta Know." Driving the message home is her willingness to challenge the listener with uncomfortable moments. Lines like "are you thinking of me when you fuck her" or "would she go down on you in a theater" are uncomfortable in one-on-one conversations. When presented as a pop single, listeners understand that this isn't another play on the heartbreak trope. This is for real.

Nothing reaches the rawness of "You Oughta Know," but Morissette confronts other relationships gone sour (although more gently, relatively) in "Right Through You" and "Wake Up." Critics are too quick to label this "therapy music" however. There are some sad songs ("Perfect"), but there are a handful of outright happy tracks as well. I would argue that "Head Over Feet" is the best on the album. Yes, it's a love song; but it features the best riff on the record, the catchiest hook, and a testament to her songwriting competence, a key change from C major during the verses to D major during the chorus (also see her interesting "rhyme juxtaposition" between verses and choruses in "Hand in My Pocket").

This is an album where you already know whether or not it's worth your time, so I'm not going to try to convince you to give it another shot. My last words are a comment on the song "Ironic." Regardless of if it's actually ironic, it's not a very good song.

INTERESTING FACT: The song "You Oughta Know" is supposedly about Morissette's relationship with Dave Coulier, who played Uncle Joey on "Full House."

Head Over Feet by Alanis Morissette on Grooveshark


  1. Well Morissette gets bonus points for playing God in "Dogma." Also interesting that she had such amazing sales when you consider her album had a parental advisory on it: those were the days of my parents checking my CD purchases, so even if I had wanted to buy this one I would have had to sneak it in. I wonder if she would have sold more had it not been for that 1 "F-word" (altho, who knows, maybe it would have been less, as that is the best part of the song)

  2. You bring up a good point. "You Oughta Know" is the first example I can think of where the F-bomb made an appearance in a straightforward pop single. Rap and rock had already tested these waters of course, but Morissette was by far the most main-stream and popular example.

    Just think, last year the songs "Little Lion Man" by Mumford and Sons, and of course "Fuck You" by Cee Lo Green were both nominated for "Song of The Year." You can give some credit to Morissette for the newfound acceptance.