Never let it be said that Alanis Morissette, doesn’t wear her heart very firmly on her sleeve. She did 25 years ago, with the colossal hit that was ‘Jagged Little Pill’ and she does here, on ‘Such Pretty Forks In The Road’. It’s what makes her an enigmatic singer-songwriter, and her potent mix of vulnerability, fury and honesty spoke to a lot of women. This record will be no exception, though this time Alanis talks of things that don’t necessarily make it on to a lot of records: post-partum depression, insomnia, motherhood, body image – this is an album that speaks to the femxle experience.
There’s a definite nod to the 90s – whether intentional or not – on the opening track, ‘Smiling’, which owes a musical debt to Radiohead’s ‘My Iron Lung’. If you turn to Alanis for melancholy and introspection, you’re in luck, because throughout the album it’s there in spades but the production is massive – songs are catchy and laden with memorable hooks; drums thunder, and Alanis’ voice dips and dives throughout – she sings as low as she does high, growing into her voice and its range, but still leaning into that famous mezzo-soprano when a song requires it.
On ‘Ablaze’ Alanis sings “I am here, through hell or high-water”, addressing her children and how her “mission is to keep the light in your eyes ablaze”. It’s beautiful, particularly when the struggles of motherhood – PPD, lack of sleep and identity, among others, crop up throughout the record, lending ‘Ablaze’ a fierceness not immediately apparent from its sound.
Lead single, ‘The Reasons I Drink’ sounds as though its been influenced by Jagged Little Pill – The Musical, which hit Broadway at the beginning of the year but had its run cut short by COVID-19. It’s an upbeat song that bounces along, lending the lyrics, which focus on addictions and the shared need to support ourselves with vices, a softer edge. Yes, Alanis sings, “nothing can give me a break from this torture like they do”, but she’s not lamenting her behaviour or asking for forgiveness, merely laying out the facts and asking for kindness – what do we each turn to when we feel overwhelmed? Interestingly, you can imagine the song being sung by the multitude of female artists who came up behind her and who no doubt have been influenced by her – be it Taylor Swift, P!nk or Avril Lavigne. It’s a chart-friendly song that recognises how others have packaged her brand of honesty and bombast and serves it back brilliantly. Most importantly, it’s a great pop song.
The record is just as successful when the music is stripped back. ‘Diagnosis’, another incredibly personal song, is set to simple piano chords. There’s no lyric you can’t make out – nothing is hidden. “Her”, too sets Alanis’ voice front and centre with little else around it. It’s a real shift from the sound of her last record, 2012’s ‘havoc and bright lights’ with its rocky sound and glossy, atmospheric production.
Alanis brings some of that rockier edge for the songs that channel her anger – whether that’s ‘Losing The Plot’ with its heavy drums and the frustrated opening lyrics “Welcome back, insomnia”. Moving into the next song ‘Reckoning’, perhaps about the ex-manager who stole 7 million dollars from her, is the sound of revenge served cold: “Brace yourself for this reckoning day/ I was once at a loss, now I stand at the gate.”
‘Pedestal’ is possibly the most interesting song here, as Alanis considers desirability and how “one day I won’t be craved the way you crave me now”. It focuses on falling short of the mark, of someone waking up and realising they didn’t really know you or never loved you as much as they thought they did. It’s fantastically intimate and reveals a relatable anxiousness.
While some songs here feels too polished, over-produced and possibly have a sound that feels like it is dating quickly – such as ‘Sandbox Love’ – overall Alanis is at her best lyrically and offers up a really impressive album that’s sure to appeal to devoted fans and to the curious. As she sings on ‘Losing The Plot’, “My mission is not dead yet”. If this record is anything to go by, Alanis is still very much in her stride.