I didn't buy this one. Instead it was given to me by Jez, a nice lady from a new-media publicity outfit called 'electric cake'. I thought that the days of people being paid to surf the web were long gone, but apparently not. These people are paid by big business to try and get the word out on the (electronic) streets. Presumably they couldn't find a thriving underground Alanis Morissette community, so I got one of their review copies instead! Free stuff = great, in my book.
So what's it like? I would have to say, 'mixed'.
I really like 21 things. Ms. Morissette seems to have learned a few tricks from Garbage. Strong guitars, and thoughtful lyrics that describe her perfect lover. This track sets the album off in fine style, things can only go downhill from here...
Narcissus has an incredibly irritating, repetitive, whiney chorus line. It sounds like a vacuum cleaner's about to die. Thank god for modern technology - one stroke of the 'delete' key and it's gone from my play-list for good.
Next, we throttle back for Hands Clean, a gentle lyrical offering in which Alanis patronises her secret younger lover. This is where my real reservations about this album start to show themselves.
Musically, under rug swept isn't that interesting. The whiney vocals make it distinctive, but it's otherwise standard 'light rock'. No, Ms. Morissette's music is centred on the lyrics. She always sounds like she's got something to say. There's a big element of voyeurism - her lyrics seem intensely personal, even autobiographical. So there is a real sense that she's speaking from the heart - like a best friend crying on your shoulder. Here's the rub though - I find it hard to believe that she is truly sharing these private experiences with me. I can't shake the suspicion that the songs are more fictional than they purport to be. And that feels a bit like I'm being deceived.
So although Hands Clean sounds good, the lyrics make me cringe. Worst of all (and perhaps this is just because I'm British) she calls her friends a 'posse'?? Ugh! Every time that line comes around I want to give her a slap!
I find the rest of the album much less annoying. In fact it gets better and better as you listen through it. Flinch is gentle, sorrowful stuff. So Unsexy picks up the pace a little, with a slow-dance rhythm and a catchy tune. Precious Illusions has a slightly darker sound, but is still squarely aimed at some dancefloor somewhere.
'That Particular Time' is a slow ballad, all piano and no guitar. I like it a lot. Perhaps it would be more suited to a singer with a more rounded voice? I wonder if Ms. Morissette has considered writing for other performers.
Next up, A Man - quirky grungy ethereal music. This song really suits Ms. Morissette's voice. It oscillates unnervingly over deep, yet restrained rock guitar. Layered synths build up throughout the song, until it ends with a pleasing crescendo.
It's back to the 'toe-to-toe' dancefloor with You Owe Me Nothing, a ballad with influences from, is that?... hip hop? Surrender is a strong, positive song. It gets my feet tapping and my head nodding - surely no bad thing.
Finally, she's left the best 'til last. Utopia is the best track on the album. Driven by a gentle melody, picked out on an acoustic guitar. Powerful lyrics describe a perfect community. Similar in concept to the first track - but while 21 things is essentially selfish, Utopia is genuinely outward looking and optimistic. It's (dare I say it)... uplifting.
Is it me or has Alanis Morissette mellowed since her first album? The cynicism and anger seems to have subsided. It's been replaced by an introspective tone that I find less interesting. Would I have bought this album if it hadn't been given to me? No I don't think so. Will I listen to it now I've got it? Probably. Occasionally.