You Talkin' to Me?: Sound and Fury

The worst thing about being dumped isn't the humiliation, although that can hurt as badly as a steel splinter suddenly jammed underneath the tender flesh between fingernail and tissue. The worst thing about an unexpected break-up is not the cliched saying of it's-not-you-it's-me or I-love-you-but-I'm-not-in-love-with-you, although hearing those platitudes can indeed bring lovely visions of evisceration to mind. No, the worst thing about being tossed aside like a wad of yesterday's news is this: the reason you're out is that someone else is in. Trust me on this. No matter what lame excuse is offered, in truth you've been replaced, by someone prettier, smarter richer, studlier, better in bed. If you don't believe me, just watch their eyes the next time someone tells you there's no one else, they just need their space. And what do they need all that space for? Your replacement, of course. Now, it took me years and years to learn this -- and I'll probably forget every word of it the minute someone takes me by the hand and leads me back down the garden path -- so I have no idea how a 21-year-old singer with the unlikely name of Alanis Morrisette got so smart at such a tender age. But listening to the second track on her debut album, Jagged Little Pill (Maverick Records), it's clear that Ms. Morissette is one wise young woman. That song, "You Oughta Know," is a bitter howl of rage that manages to be implausibly catchy. Anyone who's ever been dumped will find themselves enthusiastically seconding that emotion. Morissette has a voice that hints at a raging torrent beneath, just barely held in check as she spits out the opening line: "I want you to know that I'm happy for you/ wish nothing but the best for you both." It's like a letter scrawled at three in the morning when the demons tend to swarm, when the bed feels empty even though there's still one body there, wrapped in tangled sheets. You know, the sort of missive that starts out with good intentions of being an adult, just a note to clear the air. Then two sentences in, it takes on a life of its own as the pen moves faster across the page, degenerating into raw emotion, a barrage of vitriol and pain. Morissette picks at the scab of ruined romance as a maelstrom of sound builds behind her: "Does she speak eloquently?/ And will she have your baby?/ I'm sure she'll make a really excellent mother." But there's one repeating line that sums up the rage and heartbreak with the power of a backhand across the cheek: "And every time you speak her name/ Does she know how you told me you'd hold me/ Until you died, 'til you died?" Then Morissette lets loose with a banshee's shriek, "But you're still alive." It's the exact sound of inchoate fury, a woman scorned and trolling for revenge -- and if you claim you've certainly never felt that sort of passion for revenge, you're kidding yourself, pal. Hate is so very close to love, isn't it? Morissette rides the wrathful wave like a hell-bent dark angel, alternately purring and spewing venom. It's a chillingly authentic snapshot of what betrayal feels like, burning the gut and slashing every red door in its path with gouges of black. "Did you forget about me Mr. Duplicity/ I hate to bug you in the middle of dinner/ It was a slap in the face how quickly I was replaced/ Are you thinking of me when you fuck her?" Taut as a length of cat-gut stretched to the breaking point, "You Oughta Know" enlists Dave Navarro on guitars and Flea on bass, but it's Morissette's genuine wrathful ache that makes the track soar. Like Marianne Faithfull's "Why D'Ya Do It," the crass language and lust for revenge transcends one woman's experience to become heartbreak's new theme song. When she howls, "Every time I scratch my nails down someone else's back/ I hope you feel it," it's best to give in, crank up the volume, shout along and surrender to the blood-lust that boils when everything turns out to be a lie and trust will be a long time in coming back. Jagged Little Pill is stuffed with songs that resonate, from the naked yearning of the opening track, "All I Really Want" -- which finds Morissette searching for meaning in a land that celebrates the vapid -- to the quiet musing of "Perfect," bemoan parents that "love you just the way you are if you're perfect." It could be that the best thing about having your heart ripped out of your chest and then presented back to you, dripping with gore, is the moment you realize you're not alone. No, just another member of the walking wounded, trying to make it through the day without plunging a knife into the nearest deceitful back. Jagged Little Pill might just be a better antidote to betrayal than bloody revenge -- at least it will still taste sweet long after the wound finally starts to close. Sure, it'll leave a scar, but after all, isn't that one way to prove you're still alive?

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