Sunday, October 2, 2016

1995 - Jagged Little Pill

Jagged Little Pill was one of those albums that one simply could not escape, even if you wanted too (but no one did). It makes me sad, twenty years on, the sorry state of the female artist. I want to cry like a little girl. Was this really the last great rock album by a woman? Ho-hum (It's not. There's one more, btw).

So, out of nowhere this Canadian Debbie Gibson blows up the charts with the vehement wrath of "You Oughta Know,” like she was freaking Shemingway, and we were left shaking our heads, questioning, "Who the hell was that?" I can't help but think that Morissette, like Dylan, was a product-of-her-time-that-transcended-time.   

Alanis hits on so many themes - bad parent relationships ("Perfect"), the meaning of religion (specifically Catholicism) ("Forgiven"), the heady froth of new love ("Head Over Heels"), coming to terms with who you are and learning about life ("You Learn"), the roles of gender relationships and clearly defining who you are in relation to your lover ("Not the Doctor") - and says it with a salty fuck off on the lips. "Ironic" which I have defended on AM before, plays out as though a high school student wrote a poem about something called "irony." There is also plenty of angst and pure, unadulterated anger at an unnamed lover who spurned a young Alanis. Although she has never revealed who this person was (that guy from Full House, obviously), the sexual relationship she had with a much older man, as well as the aftermath of the dissolution of the relationship, surfaced again and again, not only Little Pill, but through several subsequent albums. Her anger is so real and vital that it becomes the principal driving force behind the LP, and each song is informed by her coming to terms with life. Fuck yeah, Debbie Gibson!

One of the most interesting facets of Jagged Little Pill is just how successful it was. Jagged Little Pill is the biggest selling debut by a woman, the biggest selling LP of the 90s, and yet, listening to the record, you can't help but be a little surprised that so many people connected to this music in such a grandiose way. I don't mean that as a slight, just an observation. The music is highly insular. When you listen to Jagged Little Pill, it's almost like you're listening to highly personal diary entries that just happen to be set to music. The lyrics are largely emotional catharses to the pain that Alanis has gone through in a highly personal, unique setting. Yet so many people (men and women) were able to relate to Alanis. 
Morissette and her Lilith Fair contemporaries like Fiona Apple (whom you will meet in 1996), Meredith Brooks, and Paula Cole, and predecessors like Liz Phair, were often pigeonholed by critics as angry young women, but we knew that what they were doing was bigger than just being pissed off. "I just remember not wanting to stop until I wrote a record that really represented where I was at and all my humanity," Morissette said. "I really did think I was the only human being on the planet going through whatever it was that I was going through at the time. So when people connected with it in the way they did, I felt less alone." What's amazing is how truly modern the lyrics are, even today, as if you could text them, all in caps, to a friend weeding through the angst of teenagery: "I RECOMMEND BITING OFF MORE THAN YOU CAN CHEW TO ANYONE (I CERTAINLY DO)/ I RECOMMEND STICKING YOUR FOOT IN YOUR MOUTH AT ANY TIME (FEEL FREE). Her lyrics, way back in '94, were veritable Tweets.