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Alanis Morissette- Front Row
So I got a new computer last week, which enabled me to put all my music on one hard drive instead of having it split up onto two externals and my old laptop’s hard drive, and that sent me on a spiral into listening to old 90’s music I haven’t listened to in at least 6 months. I listened to Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie by Alanis last night, and I was reminded of just how excellent an album it is and how crazy Alanis was for following up a HUGE hit record with 17 stream-of-consciousness rambles, angry rants, and lists about her insecurities. It’s basically one big fuck you to the commercial audience (specifically in Baba and One) and is completely self-indulgent but there’s some amazing lyrical insight and enough beautiful melodies/great guitar hooks that it all works. It’s an album that’s also saved by its sincerity, since you know Alanis really deeply means and feels every word on it, even when how open and unedited she’s being is making you cringe on her behalf.
Front Row is one of my favorites because of the contrast between the completely specific moments it describes and the more universal lines that generally come at the end of each verse. “I’d like you to be schooled and in awe, as though you were kissed by God full on the lips” is pretty much how I want everyone to react to me at all times. The production and layered vocals are interesting and unique in Alanis’s catalog, and it’s nice to start the album off with a more relaxed and fun beat before diving into the heavy guitar track/ballad/ballad/heavy guitar track/ballad categorization for the rest of the first part of the record.
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auditorylove asked: Here's a loaded question: what would you pick for your ten "desert island discs?"
Hmm, this is hard but actually not as hard as I thought it would be. They’re not in order because trying to figure that one out would probably give me a brain aneurysm.
Runners-up include: Patti Smith, Horses; Alanis Morissette, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (which used to be my 3rd favorite album ever, but which has tumbled in rankings as I’ve gotten older even though I still love it); PJ Harvey- Is This Desire?; Radiohead- The Bends; Emmylou Harris- Wrecking Ball
It’s kinda weird that 7 of these albums are from the 90’s and the most recent album came out in 2000, since I do listen to a lot that isn’t from that relatively small time period. The most recent album to even come close to making it was Ys by Joanna Newsom, and only Joni Michell’s Blue and Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks were even close to getting on the list as far as pre-1980’s albums go.
Alanis Morissette- This Grudge (live at PBS Soundstage 2003)
But who’s it hurting now?
Who’s the one that’s stuck?
Who’s it torturing now
With an antique knot in her stomach?
I want to be big and let go
Of this grudge that’s grown old
All this time I’ve not known
How to rest this bygone
I wanna be soft and resolved
Clean of slate and released
I wanna forgive for the both of us
I’ve been on an Alanis binge for the last two days, and this song is one I’ve returned to many times. This Gudge is a musically simple piano ballad with plaintive lyrics which seem to be closing the door on Alanis singing about her “You Oughta Know” relationship (also covered on Hands Clean, Flinch, Unsent and more). However, I think it transcends being a simple relationship song and its lyrics, especially the parts I quoted above, are applicable to getting over all the traumas and injuries, both big and small, that everyone suffers. Who doesn’t have some ancient hurt they’re carrying with them that weighs them down, no matter how justifiable it is? I know I certainly do, and I know it would probably be for the best if I could just get the fuck over it, but that’s a lot easier said than done. Alanis at least gets to air her grievances in songs.
Alanis really is the most self-help-y therapy-like musician, her songs always lead to thoughts like this.
Alanis Morissette-U R (from the Music In High Places: Live in Navajo City DVD)
Don’t mind our staring,
but we’re surprised you’re not in a far-gone asylum
We’re surprised you didn’t crack-up
Lord knows that we would’ve
We would’ve liked to have been there
But you keep pushing us away
Alanis is in the news this week for announcing she’s pregnant and appearing on Weeds, which premieres on Monday, but what I really want to know is when she’s going to put out some new music. This song originally appeared on her self-indulgent but vastly under-appreciated Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie album and is (along with That I Would be Good, The Couch, and Joining You) the heart of an otherwise angry or depressing album. Alanis examines her history in the record business and growth over time, from before she signed her record deal to the post- Jagged Little Pill times. The listing of her various qualities in the choruses can be a turn-off to some people, but I think it’s important to note that each time there’s at least one quality that’s negative and others that can be ambiguous in meaning, keeping the song from falling entirely into the “pep talk to myself” trap that Alanis gets caught in sometimes or an egomaniacal listing of why she’s great. The beautiful setting for this performance also makes it more enjoyable to watch, and it’s interesting to see Alanis perform in a different way from her usual style.
(If you’re an Alanis fan, she’s also going to be on Chelsea Lately tonight, and she’s usually pretty funny on talk shows so it should be worth watching.)
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Katy Perry- Circle The Drain
Remember what I just wrote about how matching the right persona to a pop song can result in perfection? Well, the reverse is true as well, and matching the wrong persona to a song can easily drag it down from decent to shitty. Such is the case with Katy Perry’s OTHER new song, “Circle The Drain” (written/produced by Christopher Stewart, Katy & Monte Neuble), which is never going to be amazing but could be significantly better performed by someone else. This attempt at an angry break-up song, complete with generic rock guitar that seems about to go into the Beat It riff at a moment’s notice and gratuitous cursing, would fit in nicely on the last two Kelly Clarkson albums (it even has that echo effect on the last word of many lines that Kelly overuses) but it feels completely false coming out of Perry, especially since the other two singles from her upcoming album are pure bubblegum pop with no edge. She’s trying her damnedest to summon up some real venom, but just can’t get there. The lyrics alternate between bitterly specific and completely generic, and while this usually results in a revenge-pop masterpiece, the generic complaints don’t have that sing-along quality that has made You Oughta Know, Like I Do, the Fleetwood Mac catalog, and many many others karaoke staples. There’s gossip blog buzz that this song is about Katy’s relationship with the guy from Gym Class Heroes, but if anything, that make this come off as tacky and mean since she’s obviously moved on to bigger and better things (number 1 singles, engaged to another celebrity, cover of Rolling Stone) and he’s still toiling in comparative obscurity. A miss from Perry that stops her hot streak at 2.
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Alanis Morissette- Orchid
Not yet arrested
And by that I mean betrothed
Though at start I am duly courted
I’ve just not been trusted with altars
I’m a sweet piece of work
Well intentioned yet disturbed
Wrongly labeled and underfed
Treated like a rose as an orchid
It was revealed this week that Alanis Morissette was recently married to a mostly unknown rapper named “Souleye”. Congratulations to them and all that (No seriously, I do hope Alanis is happy, she deserves it). One of the bad consequences of her being married though is that she’ll probably never play the song “Orchid” (or most of the other material written after her break-up with Ryan Reynolds) live, and that is a shame. The song starts out as a lament about how Morissette has been misunderstood by those around her, but it avoids falling into self-pity because of the gently upbeat vocal. Guy Sigsworth contributes some nice beats and production work that keep the song moving, but never overwhelms Alanis’ vocal. The song resolves with her finding someone who does get her, so maybe she will sing the song live, despite the verse I quoted about how she’s still unmarried. I could see her singing it with a knowing wink at the audience, although I hate when artists do shit like that, so hopefully I’m wrong on both counts and the song will be played without the cutesy-ness.
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Christina Aguilera- I Am
Well, this album is certainly a disappointment. For all her talk about working with indie musicians to do something different and push pop music forward, Christina has delivered an album with nothing innovative and little that qualifies as great. Bionic is an album destroyed by its own excesses and hamstrung by extremely poor sequencing. 4 ballads one after the other makes each successive one have less of an impact and draws too strong a contrast between the sadness and neediness of the ballads and the over the top (some would say delusional) self-confidence displayed in the dance tracks. Putting two of the album’s more ridiculous tracks (the especially unfortunate and boring Sex For Breakfast and the goofy bombastic I Hate Boys) before and after the ballad set is jarring and so poorly done that you have to wonder if anyone bothered to listen to the tracklisting once through before releasing the album.
A few of the dance tracks are better and at least fun, but they still have issues. Desnudate, Glam, Prima Donna, and Vanity are enjoyable but all 4 would be stronger if they were edited down to 3:00. Desnudate is the stand-out dance track here, with some nice Spanish guitar and a mix of breathy moans and belting, but is killed by being way too long. Glam feels like Christina tried to write a new Vogue, but took out everything that made that track fun. Prima Donna has a synth line seemingly stolen from Ke$ha’s “Your Love Is My Drug” and some vocal inflections lifted from Beyonce. All that makes for a fun song (or would if the line “I’m a prima donna” wasn’t just repeated for half the track), but something that derivative can’t get high marks. Aguilera and her collaborators seem to have forgotten how to write a chorus that isn’t just the same 2 lines repeated for (at least) 30 seconds, ensuring that you’re tired of the tracks by the time they finish instead of wanting more. While we’re on the subject of lyrics, let’s not overlook the nearly unlistenable atrocity that is Woohoo, a just plain gross ode to how awesome Christina’s pussy tastes. And before you say that sounds amazing, it’s a much better idea on paper and even Nicki Minaj can’t save it.
Even the ballads, which Christina has always managed to hit out of the park before, are a bit uneven. You Lost Me is a fine track, but the pre-release hype about it being the best track on the album left me with a feeling of “That’s it?”. The Linda Perry-penned Lift Me Up is excellent and sung perfectly, but the awful guitar and overdone backing vocals detract from the song’s emotion, and it was far superior when performed live with a more stripped-down arrangement at the Hope For Haiti benefit. All I Need is another “I love my child” song from a female singer, and can we please just retire that cliche? Every parent gives it a shot, and no one ever pulls it off.
The one track that is nearly flawless is I Am. Its lyrics have a very Alanis Morissette-like quality, something you either love or hate, but I come down firmly on the side of love. There’s beautiful strings and the backing vocals are perfectly used throughout the song, never overpowering or distracting to the listener. Christina doesn’t even oversing here, giving a more understated vocal performance that allows the song’s vulnerability to shine through. Hopefully there will be more like this on the bonus disc that comes with the deluxe edition (so far unleaked) but I’m not holding my breath.