Record Review

Alanis Morissette Jagged Little Pill (Maverick/Reprise) (3 stars) This one-time Canadian teen dance-pop idol turned twenty-one year old alternative rocker makes her American debut by liberally borrowing (I'm being polite) P.J. Harvey's, Liz Phair's, and Courtney's Love's themes and sound. Yet that she's outsold the three of them combined isn't the rank injustice it might seem (heck she's even outselling her label's president, Madonna, who she sounds uncannily like on the verses of "Head Over Feet"). With producer, co-songwriter and guitarist Glen Ballard adding a roiling, aggressive guitar sound (with all the disorganized but furious passion of a summer thunderstorm), her singles have more grandeur than Harvey or Phair and she's simply easier to take than Courtney. Though many of her ideas are received (often her willful know nothingness seems straight from Edie Brickell and her sexual politics seem like Phair before she encountered women's studies), her derivativeness is often winning -- especially on the album's four alternative radio singles. The opening track, "All I Really Want" proves just how much alternative has changed the tastes of the pop music audience. Disclaiming like a bored boho poet, Morissette's voice swerves, dips and cracks like Yoko Ono, while Ballard's guitar gives the track an anthemic feel. Too bad what she wants are high-minded banalities like peace, comfort, and justice. "You Ought to Know," which doesn't benefit much from input of two Red Hot Chili Peppers members, is a tale of simmering spite at an ex-lover. Her frank sex talk, spurned lover dementia and speculation on her ex-lover's new girlfriend's inhibitions have all been done better by Phair (in fact, Morissette seems so unthinkingly derivative that the cliched "cross I bear" almost sounds like "cross-eyed bear"). But such songs have never made mainstream radio before this. She also gets in one great transgressive moment when she concludes "And every time I scratch my nails down someone else's back, I hope you feel it." Another transgressive moment comes during the hidden a'cappella closer in which she breaks into an ex-boyfriend's house and showers while thinking about him. On the best track, "Hand In My Pocket" she comes off like some unholy marriage of Joni Mitchell and Beck -- a poetess of self-actualizing slack. A statement of youthful definition ("I'm broke but I'm happy/I'm poor but I'm kind") over a simple guitar shuffle, Morissette begins each chorus by announcing "What it all comes down to/Is that everything's gonna be fine fine fine" (which -- good for her -- is more optimistic than seemly for an alternative musician). She ends each chorus with a piece of shaggy-dog story "I've got one hand in my pocket and the other one is giving a high five (holding a piece sing) (flicking a cigarette)." When she ends the song with her other hand "hailing a taxi cab," she's flipped the moral of Joni's "Big Yellow Taxi" -- as a youthful alternative chick, life's crap is something she blithely walks away from rather than having to suffer. The sheer profusion of received moments makes this album a greater triumph of commercial calculation than of feminist (or alternative) truth-telling. Yet she's done an interesting, sometimes catchy job of packaging the complicated, often-ambivalent analysis of Phair, Harvey, and Love for a younger demographic -- playing Sassy to their Ms.

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