“DD Review: Alanis Morissette – Demos / Previously Unreleased.”

Score: 7.5/10


Per my specific taste in things, Alanis Morissette ends up being sort of a crossover star within my artistic feelers, but not at all in the typically banal, Hollywood way. That is to say, it’s undoubtedly substance itself that put her into stardom — her music career propelled by power and melody which led to further fame in Kevin Smith’s Dogma, and last but not least, her classic interviews. [1]
So actress, impromptu poetess and general obsession object of Kevin Smith roles aside, she’s really got her game spiced as a musician, more so in the ’90’s than ever. Along these lines, Demos, disc 2 of Jagged Little Pill / Deluxe Edition, feels more like a forgotten but welcome guest than some industry fodder. And exactly what it brings to the party can be summed up in one word: spontaneity. This additive is epitomized on the lashing, PJ Harvey-like “Death of Cinderella,” the bare chorus of which would sound out of place (or too good to be true, in other words), on any proper mainstream release of the ’90’s. They were a decade which was, after all, though “alternative,” anything but “spare,” with their bombastic grunge structures and frequent will to lyrically awe or alienate. “Death of Cinderella,” then, with a chorus that just sort of stumbles off back into rock and roll nihilism (a very fun brand of such thing) before wearing out its welcome, lands a very worthy spot on the album as untouched by corporate hands. It’s like a singer/songwriter “cafe” song, with its simplicity, that just happens to ROCK, and so it unwittingly evades two cliches all at once.
One sort of miscellaneous point, not really good not really bad, about Demos, is that a couple of the songs jog along in highly similar gaits to Jagged numbers, as in the case of “Superstar Wonderful Weirdos,” which slightly mimics the cheesy groove of “You Learn.” So as a blessing, this track, before exploding into an epic chorus more than worthy of most pop stars’ albums, waylays the listener through copious alternative life imagery — a football player who wants to be a ballerina, and a 10-year-old girl apparently “attracted to older men” (who like her back) but “is intelligence” (thus I guess nullifying what would otherwise be a very unfortunate circumstance). [2] The lyrical excursions into taboos here robustly fill the stylistic void, which seems like sort of Morissette’s default strumming style when she sits down at her guitar, and balance is restored with considerable moxie. But as I’ll explain later, it’s Morissette’s voice itself, and her preternatural gift for preying on our emotions, that solidifies her as a consistently rewarding artist.
Just as a little experiment, I decided to check in with the old album and pick a random track: “Not the Doctor.” This is a song which confirmed what had already been my hypothesis: that for the original release of Pill, the producer, or more likely the record label, wielded a certain emotional bloodlust. Remember, Morissette is only ONE HUMAN BEING, but you could have fooled us from the outpouring of relationship drama and existential conflict (leave it to Fiona Apple to top her two years later in this department) that flooded the original LP. So these b-sides are indeed a collective exhaling aside, by comparison, not dissimilar to Sebadoh’s “Red Riding Good” or PJ Harvey’s “That Was My Veil.” Indeed, anything LESS light-hearted than “You Oughta Know” couldn’t help but come across as staged showmanship, like something out of the musical Chicago.
Even the tracks which seem at first to stunt the album’s energy, like the down-tempo, muted “Closer than You Might Believe” and “No Avalon” (3 and 4), eventually accelerate into climactic choruses which at least propel them into “listenable” territory. But still, what makes this disc a refreshing companion piece is also what prevents it from ostensible “album greatness” — that the songs aren’t really THAT personal as to really give us an idea of the artist’s emotional pedigree, the shape of her muse, more or less. They call Jagged Little Pill a feminist album in The Onion, and truly, the idea of a man-hating voice of this power is a little intimidating for any of us dudes, but I actually don’t think it was, or is, a feminist album. That is, I’M not alienated by it, and it’s hard to imagine myself being at, or witnessing, any feminist functions and not being alienated. I feel that I am designed to derive joy, and the exact joy she herself feels, nothing more nothing less, from songs like “You Learn” and the gentle but holistic b-side “London” — these are songs for well-lit cafes, not dark and lugubrious manifestos. But don’t think Morissette doesn’t already know that she was made to be a little bit too poppy, by median artistic standards, as a result of her positioning on a major label (it probably could have been worse, but the ’90’s in my opinion allowed for considerable artistic leeway in spotlighted stars like this). The musical inclinations I hear here, given free reign, are the chorus brevity I mentioned with “Death of Cinderella,” and an Ani Difranco type dissolution of her voice, sort of like half muscular habit half cultural shtick, which ends up really pretty effective, just as disarming as most of Morissette’s quirks. Tracks like the gentle but faintly jazz-influenced “London,” though, remind you that her strength is the pop structure, the ubiquitous sort of climax which can’t help but blur the lines of the sexes, as much as some women might want to lay a wanton claim thereto.
[1] Alanis Morissette is rivaled in interview greatness only by Bob Dylan (whose hilariously brief answers are an ironic source of entertainment). She’s a veritable tomcat of honesty, often prizing “solitude” as one of her most important privileges, and openly declaring that life “can suck so hard” if you’re not feeling a spiritual poignance (the latter I found in the #12 issue of Origin magazine).
[2] Actually when thoroughly examined, the verse is not disturbing but pretty eye-opening — the compelling and through-provoking proposition of what would happen if people really interacted under these inordinate circumstances, and all vices were rendered ineffective.

Leave a Reply