Alanis Morissette: So-Called Chaos
Sound/Style: Hard-edged modern pop/rock, alternately dark and light
By Steve Morley
(UMCom) -- With her striking dark tresses, Alanis Morissette was 1995’s poster child for cynicism on her breakthrough, Jagged Little Pill. Hovering somewhere between precocious child and arrested post-adolescent, she was the voice of Generation X. Negativity is an easy and appealing point of connection, and her style struck a chord with younger listeners in particular. Because of the reputation that precedes her, the release of Morissette’s So-Called Chaos is momentous, signaling an upturn in her personal development. Both musically and lyrically, her jagged edges (and occasional profanity) are still evident, but Chaos is an easier pill to swallow. On the CD, the maturing songwriter (rumored to have recently married) shares hard-won victories and reveals scars, all without abandoning her trademark bite. She opens with "Eight Easy Steps," a shadowy spin on self-improvement programs that details her credentials as a teacher of manipulation and self-deception. After venturing farther into the record, it becomes clear that the track is a litany of traits she’s mastered but is working hard to dispense. On "Excuses" and "This Grudge," she digs deeper into her own disheveled closets and measures the cost of bitterness, victim thinking and wallowing in pity. After airing crippling lies and half-truths like "it’s too hard to help me, God wants me to work, no resting, no lazy," she moves past long-held misconceptions, describing the therapeutic effect of her actions: "bringing these into the light shakes their foundations and clears my sight."
Even so, this is no Cinderella story, as personal transformation is often a halting and cyclical process. Accordingly, the songs attack dysfunction and emotional struggles from a variety of angles. On "Spineless," which deals with making oneself over to please another, she uses extreme irony to stress the importance of a healthy sense of self. "Doth I Protest Too Much" is a look at active jealousy and denial, while the title song - one of several on which exotic Indian and Arabic elements are overlaid - is a study in contrasts that rails against the demands of adult responsibility. Over a Led Zeppelin-like guitar figure and thudding tom-toms that create a palpable heaviness, she sings "I want to be weightless, flying through the air." Realism and hope converge in the melodic, swaying "Out Is Through" (‘the only way out is through, the only way we’ll feel better"), and the gentle "Everything" closes the disc on a note of gratitude for unconditional love, either human or supernatural. Elsewhere, though, most of the CD’s quieter moments seem to be holding their breath, waiting for the other shoe - or chorus - to drop. Similarly, an assortment of vaguely unsettling sounds drift in and out of the songs in ungrounded contrast to the densely layered guitars that dominate the disc, suggesting that change is an uncertain but exhilarating ride. If Morissette’s reedy vocals and awkwardly placed syllables sometimes distract, they do little to undermine the intelligence and insight she articulates on So-Called Chaos, a gritty yet encouraging journey towards the light at the tunnel’s end.
Steve Morley is a free-lance music journalist living in College Grove, Tenn.