Amazingly, it's 17 years since Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill stormed the charts. Her new record, Havoc And Bright Lights, is her fifth album since that moment where she graduated from being a pop princess to an angry young woman. While time is a healer, it's clear that she's still angry. The focus of her attention may have changed over the years, but her use of song writing as personal catharsis certainly hasn't.
That's perhaps the strength of the 14 tracks here; it's rare to hear an album exploring the issues of being a thirty eight year old woman and a new mother without descending into over sentimentality. However, Morissette achieves that delicate balancing act without sacrificing what her audience wants; namely big guitars and lyrics tinged with a little venom. To personalise the latest journal entry in Morissette's catalogue, she bookends the album with songs about motherhood. 'Guardian', the lead single from the record, has a radio friendly big chorus ("I'll be your keeper for life as your guardian") and plays with religious overtones of a watchful angel. Meanwhile, 'Magical Child' is a more laid back, dreamlike lullaby complete with horns and strings that imparts advice ("To thine own self be true"), presumably to the next generation of angry teenagers.
Sandwiched between those two songs are a group of tracks that range from laid-back ballads to spleen venting rock. Unlike 2008's Flavors Of Entanglement, there's not an over reliance on Guy Sigsworth's production and drum loops to pack a punch. Instead, the tracks feel more organic and less chaotic. Even when Morissette is putting the world to rights (for example, the confrontational anti domestic violence overtones of 'Woman Down') she injects hope into proceedings ("Next woman down is your daughter, a stranger to being debased. She has a new lease and limit on the abuse she'll tolerate".).
That outlook is reflective of Morissette's current mindset as a wife and mother. She no longer seems to be swimming in a sea of heartache; instead, there's one eye firmly placed on the future while she struggles with her inner demons (as demonstrated in the piano led ballad and standout track 'Havoc'). There are a couple of moments here that feel a little out of place on a rather grown up rock record ('Will You Be My Girlfriend'), but there's no doubting that Morissette still feels like she has something important to say about the state of modern womanhood.
Back in 1995, Alanis hit on a winning formula. Nearly two decades later, she hasn't strayed too far from that recipe. She can still rock, she can still be vulnerable, and she still has some issues that she needs to work through. Thankfully, her musical palette hasn't become dramatically more experimental and, while her lyrics may reflect a little of her Buddhist spirituality, she's not become a victim of her own celebrity.
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