When an artist arrives as high as Alanis Morissette did back in 1995, any follow-up would have been a trip downward. It was just a matter of how far.
Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie suffered from ambition. In trying to prove she was more than a hook factory, Morissette delivered a set of indescript, impenetrable songs that lost their appeal on subsequent listens.
It was easy to like the album at first. The same can’t be said years later.
So what direction does Morissette go with Under Rug Swept, her first album of new material in four years? Back up, or further down? Thankfully, it’s the former.
Hitmaking producer Glen Ballard isn’t around this time around, but it’s clear Morissette learned a lot from him.
Under Rug Swept goes straight for the hook, and the mouthy prose-like lyrics that bogged down Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie have been pruned and sheered, particularly during choruses.
Tracks such as “Flinch”, “Narcissus” and “So Unsexy” still have a bit of a Sondheim-ish wordy-ness, but they all give way to insanely memorable choruses when all is said and done.
“Precious Illusions”, in particular, depends entirely on its chorus to drive home its theme.
“That Particular Time” borrows a bit from “Uninvited” and that most ubiquitous of influences, John Lennon’s “Imagine”, while on “Utopia” Morissette affects a pretty close Sarah McLachlan imitation.
Morissette has gone back to writing frank lyrics. “You’ve never been with anyone who doesn’t take your shit/You’ve never been with anyone who calls you on it,” she excoriates on “Narcissus”.
On “So Unsexy”, she indulges her doubts: “I can feel so unsexy for someone so beautiful/So unloved and for someone so fine/I can feel so boring for someone so interesting/So ignorant for someone of sound mind.”
Earth-shattering? Probably not, but it’s a lot easier to remember than that “Dear John” tune from four years back.
With the Lilith Era a distant memory in the wake of bare midrifts and pretty boy teen pop, Morissette and her earnest singer-songwriting could have felt obsolete.
They don’t. Morissette has armed herself with an arsenal of straight-forward songs, casting off any artistic pretense she affected to prove she’s no one-hit wonder.
She’s gone back to being comfortable with herself as a musician.