From 2007-2009, I ran a music blog called The Bringer of Song under the name Alden. It was a wonderful experience, promoting music I loved while honing my ability to write, and I regret having to leave it behind when the form of music blogging I preferred became untenable. I’ll be reposting some of my better pieces of writing from that blog here. I’d hate to lose them into the ether of the endless internet.
This particular piece is my favourite album review I did for Bringer; a review of an artist I’d been listening to for a decade, both subjectively reviewing the quality of the music while also placing it in context with her previous work and her very public life. this piece ran in the The Bringer of Song on May 25, 2008…
“I don’t know who you’re talking to with such fucking disrespect.”
Artist: Alanis Morissette
Album: Flavors of Entanglement
1. “Citizen of The Planet” – 4:22
2. “Underneath” – 4:10
3. “Straitjacket” – 3:08
4. “Versions of Violence” – 3:36
5. “Not As We” – 4:45
6. “In Praise of The Vulnerable Man” – 4:07
7. “Moratorium” – 5:35
8. “Torch” – 4:50
9. “Giggling Again For No Reason” – 3:48
10. “Tapes” – 4:26
11. “Incomplete” – 3:30
I’ve been a long time fan of Alanis, though she’s run me hot and cold over the years. Sometimes she seems profoundly honest, and other times, merely whiny. But you can’t say that she doesn’t put all of her heart (and all of her hurt) into her songs. It’s the same for this album… but something’s different on Flavours of Entanglement.
And I like it.
You know why? Two words: Guy. Sigsworth. Sigsworth’s an utter genius of a producer, responsible for producing much of the output from Imogen Heap (and acted as half of their duo Frou Frou), Kate Havnevik, Bjork, Madonna and even Britney Spears’ new album (where the production was the most praised part, above even Spears herself). I wouldn’t say that Sigsworth overtakes Alanis here; indeed, it’s because he and Alanis work so well together that his part here is so treasured.
A problem with Alanis’ work before was its focus on the words, with the music often a slow, sad piano-driven backdrop to Alanis’ very emotive lyrics. The effect was often overpoweringly droppy and depressing, making both words and music seem overdramatic. Sisgsworth rectifies this, helping Alanis show some real fire on “Straitjacket”, giving her a lush background to underscore (instead of belabour) the message of “Citizen of the Planet”, give an understated sadness to “Torch”, an apocalyptic landscape backing the synthed-up “Versions of Violence”, and adding a sense of rolling, content joy to “Incomplete”. The music is, here, just as much part of the message as the songs.
And the songs, well, they’re the strongest set Alanis has had, possibly ever. Part of this is restraint; she produced almost three times as many songs as featured here, with the best getting a spot on the album. She also allows herself to properly address the shared experience as well as her own experiences. Songs from previous albums like “That Particular Time” (Under Rug Swept, 2002) were good but very specific. Many of her songs were the same way, not quite tapping into that ‘everyone knows’ feeling that rocketed her into fame with “You Oughta Know”. In fact, her last album (So-Called Chaos, 2004) was a misstep because, though so many of the songs were of a high quality, they were also very, very personal; they didn’t have that universal factor needed.
Compare that to “Straitjacket”, which while clearly a song drawn from personal experience taps into the very common feeling of your partner seeing you as someone completely different, and taking aim at the hypocrisy in so many relationships. Or “Citizen of the Planet” and “Underneath”, which tap more into idealism (a global community vs. nationalism and personal responsibility effecting things on a grand scale, respectively) instead of personal problems. These hark back to “Utopia” (Under Rung Swept) and b-side “Symptoms” (Hands Clean [Single], 2002). The latter I’ve featured before, in fact, praising its writing.
The most accessible and moving song from So-Called Chaos was its lead single “Everything”, which tapped into the idea that we can only be loved when loved for everything within us, good and bad. This was even preceded by “You Owe Me Nothing in Return” (Under Rug Swept), admitting the idea of selfless, independent and unconditional love. She even explored the theme in “Still”, her contribution to the Dogma Soundtrack in 1999, three years before Swept. This was an issue Morissette has struggled with as a young pop star, being constantly derided for her weight and not allowed to write her own songs, and a feeling that has followed her throughout her adult life. This is followed up on Entanglement with “Incomplete”, which challenges the goal-based idea that we are constantly ‘incomplete’, always struggling to become better, freer, stronger and never accepting ourselves for who we are. It struggles with the dichotomy of it, realising that it both propels us through life and also disallows up from ever being truly happy with ourselves, and you feel that Alanis is finally accepting this and urging us to as well.
If “Incomplete” was a continuation of themes explored in “Everything” (and, to a lesser degree, Under Rug Swept’s “Precious Illusions”), then “In Praise of the Vulnerable Man” is a direct sequel to songs such as “Knees of My Bees” (So-Called Chaos), “21 Things I Want in a Lover” (Under Rug Swept), and maybe even “Unsent” (Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, 1998). In the earliest, she praises the men she left behind; in “Lover” she illustrates the man she wants, and in “Bees” and “Vulnerable” she revels in having found him. We can tie both of the latter to beau Ryan Reynolds, who was reportedly responsible for the happy tone of Chaos – and whom Morisette split with during the writing of this album. “Vulnerable” may have been written during the relationship or after it had ended, but either way it works as a nice tribute to him and their relationship. This is not the woman scorned of Jagged Little Pill (2005), but a more mature, grown up woman.
Last record, Morissette’s “This Grudge” (So-Called Chaos) declared her angst over the mystery relationship that fuelled her anger during Pill, Junkie, and Swept to be over, moving forwards into a happy relationship with Reynolds. Reynolds might be gone, but Morissette has shown here that she’s ready, once and for all, to move on.