Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Alanis Morissette

Sound Familiar?
“You Oughta Know,” “Ironic,” “Thank U”

Who Is She?
The reigning Canadian queen of angsty girl music.

Before Alanis Morissette was ripping Dave Coulier a new asshole in “You Oughta Know,” she was flexing her acting muscles in You Can’t Do That on Television and crooning Top 40 hits in Canada. In 1991, Alanis released her debut album Alanis, which eventually went platinum. Of course, it was only released in her native country.

The dance-pop debut earned Alanis the title of “The Debbie Gibson of Canada.” (You ‘80s babies should get the reference.) Alanis spawned the glitzy single “Too Hot,” which gained a handful of Juno Award nominations. (Fun fact: Alanis’ first tour was as an opener for Vanilla Ice.)

A year later, our Canadian queen released a ballad-driven follow-up called Now Is the Time. It was a commercial failure, but paved the way for a more personal third album that you may have heard of.

Keep in mind that Alanis wasn’t even out of high school when she released her first two albums. After graduating in 1993, she moved to Toronto to start recording Jagged Little Pill. By spring of 1995, Alanis had completed the album and signed with Maverick Records (only after almost every other label had passed on the album).

Jagged Little Pill was released internationally in 1995 and was only expected to sell enough copies to pay the bills. But once influential Los Angeles radio station KROQ-FM put “You Oughta Know” into rotation, Alanis’ popularity snowballed.

Once “You Oughta Know” hit MTV, Jagged Little Pill went straight to the top of the charts. Subsequent singles “All I Really Want” and “Hand In My Pocket” enjoyed moderate success, but it was “Ironic” that proved to be Alanis’ biggest hit.

Jagged Little Pill is currently in the top 20 best selling records of all time, beating out Purple Rain and Abbey Road. How’s that for success?

The album also earned four Grammys in 1996, including Album of the Year.

Following the 18-month tour, Alanis decided that she needed a vacation, so she headed to India for six weeks.

In 1998, Alanis was featured as a guest vocalist on Ringo Starr’s album Vertical Man and Dave Matthews Band’s Before These Crowded Streets. She also contributed the hauntingly gorgeous track “Uninvited” to the City of Angels soundtrack, which won the 1999 Grammy for Best Rock Song.

The follow-up to Jagged Little Pill was 1998’s Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. Considering the fact that matching the success of such a huge record is almost impossible, Infatuation Junkie did surprisingly well.

The wordy lyrics alienated many fans and Infatuation Junkie ended up selling considerably less than its predecessor. However, it still received positive reviews, including a four-star review from Rolling Stone.

Alanis rounded out the decade with an appearance at the disastrous Woodstock ’99 and a tour with fellow singer/songwriter Tori Amos.

Where Is She Now?
Still releasing albums, though slightly less angsty.

In 2001, Alanis released Under Rug Swept, which featured guest musicians Eric Avery (of Jane’s Addiction), Dean DeLeo (of Stone Temple Pilots), Flea (of Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Meshell Ndegeocello.

The songstress caused a little controversy in 2004 with her appearance at the Juno Awards. Alanis hosted the ceremony dressed in a bathrobe, which she took off to reveal a flesh-colored bodysuit. The stunt was a response to increased US censorship following Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show.

Unfortunately, the increased censorship also hindered Alanis’ promotion of her next album, 2004’s So-Called Chaos. The lead single “Everything” failed to achieve commercial success in the US partly due to American radio stations refusing to play it. The first word in the song happened to be “asshole,” which didn’t fly with the uptight censors.

After a tour with The Rolling Stones in 2005 and a tongue-in-cheek cover of The Black Eyed Peas“My Humps,” Alanis released her seventh studio album, 2008’s Flavors of Entanglement.

Alanis made some appearances on various charity singles and American Idol in 2010, and announced that she had begun work on the follow-up to Flavors of Entanglement in 2011.

But Why Alanis Morissette?
Her new album drops this year! Look for Havoc and Bright Lights on August 24. In the meantime, enjoy Alanis’ newest single “Guardian.”

What Does Sam Think?
Female singer/songwriters of the ‘90s had some balls. Fiona, Tori and Alanis, among others, proved that girls could rock, too. These women were part of a new breed of female musicians. They were the antithesis to image-centered artists like Madonna. Instead of working to preserve a persona, they spoke their minds.

Alanis Morissette stands out because she made the huge jump from teen pop star to sharp-tongued alternagirl. How many other female musicians have gone from releasing dance-pop hits to songs about going down on Uncle Joey in a movie theater? I challenge you to send me a list if you can.

If you started reading this entry wondering where the hell Alanis went, you’re not alone. As you can see in the brief history above, her albums since Jagged Little Pill haven’t been nearly as successful. As much as I’d like to say that this is a grave injustice, it’s really not that surprising.

You see, Alanis went soul-searching after her jump to mainstream stardom and picked up a little wisdom on the way. You can hear the drastic shift in maturity from Jagged Little Pill to Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (which is a fantastic album, by the way). That caught most fans off guard because they were expecting another bitter break-up song like “You Oughta Know” or even a radio-friendly hit like “Ironic.” Instead, they got a grown woman singing about moving on and finding spirituality.

It may sound pretentious on paper, but it Alanis made it work. Though she’s faded into slight obscurity, she still makes the music she wants to make. Her later albums (with the exception of Under Rug Swept) are a little lackluster, but I’m glad she didn’t fall into the trap of churning out 10 more albums that sound exactly like Jagged Little Pill.

The bottom line is: Alanis is a queen. She is the poster-woman for girl power (and not in the Spice Girls sense of the phrase). She’ll always hold a special place in my heart, even if she doesn’t really know how irony works.

-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.

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