A love letter to Alanis’ ‘Jagged Little Pill’ at 25

To mark its 25th birthday, Leonie Cooper looks back at Alanis Morisette's 16x platinum selling album, 'Jagged Little Pill': a record that captured the imagination of her pre-teen self like no other.

I would have been 11 when ‘Jagged Little Pill’ was released, just a decade younger than its creator Alanis Morissette, and I can still remember the cracked jewel case it lived in when it wasn’t on heavy rotation in the small North London home I lived in with my mum. A quarter of century down the line and I can’t quite remember where we bought the album, but it would have been from one of two places; Wood Green Our Price (now North London’s only branch of Five Guys) or the bigger, more worldly branch of HMV in Brent Cross Shopping Centre. The latter is most likely because it was around that time when I regularly began to nag my mum into taking me to the brutalist shopping Mecca off the North Circular, where weekends would be spent proving that I was definitely grown-up enough to graduate from Tammy Girl to Topshop. 

With the charts packed out by the blustering boys of Britpop, Alanis Morissette was every discerning pre-teenage girl’s pick of the year. It would be another 12 months until The Spice Girls were unleashed on an unsuspecting public – and by the time ‘Wannabe’ arrived, me and my mates saw ourselves as far too mature for their cartoonish antics. Anyway, we already had the inventors of the Girl Power slogan, Shampoo, and Alisha’s Attic would arrive not long after, two largely forgotten goth-pop sisters who were responsible for an eyeliner-smeared photoshoot staged in a friend’s bathtub.

Four years after grunge stomped its way out of Seattle – and a year after the death of its reluctant figurehead Kurt Cobain – the messy, aggressive and decidedly macho genre had been fully subsumed into the mainstream. Emoting was cool, anger was fine, and wearing greebo Dr Martens with a strappy floral dress was practically a requirement for every woman under 30. ‘Jagged Little Pill’ seamlessly merged lessons learned from Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden with a ragged femininity and a charismatic frontwoman with a pop diva attitude who wasn’t above an acoustic ballad every now and again.

On the surface, the appeal of ‘Jagged Little Pill’ to me then was obvious. It was there in the huge singalong choruses of ‘Hand In Pocket’, the forceful melodies of songs like ‘You Learn’ and the occasional rude bit on ‘Right Through You’. The appeal now is more nuanced. Here was female rage, dissatisfaction and in Morisette’s semi-screeched vocals, a kind of unapologetic aggression, the likes of which I had never heard from a woman before. 

HERE WAS FEMALE RAGE, DISSATISFACTION AND – IN MORISETTE’S SEMI-SCREECHED VOCALS – A KIND OF UNAPOLOGETIC AGGRESSION, THE LIKES OF WHICH I HAD NEVER HEARD FROM A WOMAN BEFORE

The album came at a pivotal time, at the age when you start to develop your own taste in music away from the records you were raised on. I still love the Tracy Chapman, Levellers and Lloyd Cole cassettes my mum would play on the battered tape player that I fell on top of at four, leading to a three pronged scar above my right eye, but Alanis was all mine. ‘Jagged Little Pill’ quickly became part of a genre-less jumble of music that I had proudly discovered for myself, which took in everything from the chill-out trip-hop of Morcheeba to the faux gangster lounge rock of Fun Lovin’ Criminals. It’s the music that, however you might look back on it now – with embarrassment, confusion or, in the case of Fun Lovin’ Criminals, both – still holds a special place in your heart. It’s the music that you still know every single word to and the music that can still move you like nothing else.  

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