THE ONE AFTER THE BIG ONE: Alanis Morissette, SUPPOSED FORMER INFATUATION JUNKIE
It’s kinda impossible to be bigger or more resonant to one’s audience than Alanis Morissette was in 1995 and 1996. Her album JAGGED LITTLE PILL was at once insular, yet universal, featuring raw, intimate lyrics about heartbreak in all its many dimensions – anger, depressiveness, resolution and re-emergence. The songs were also nestled in melodies and instrumentation that were precision-designed (by producer Glen Ballard) to fit on alternative pop and rock radio playlists, and to sound really cool blaring from car, dorm and bedroom speakers. The importance of that last bit cannot be exaggerated; PILL was a zeitgeist-setting hour of music that has to date sold more than 30 million copies worldwide.
Morissette was, at least creatively, in a much calmer place when it came time to follow up her breakout record. On 1998’s SUPPOSED FORMER INFATUATION JUNKIE, she dialed back the drama that infused so much of PILL, replacing it with a more subdued lyrical tone and textured sonic palette. Though not as big a hit as its predecessor, the record nevertheless strikes an emotional chord that still resonates today.
“Baba” and “Thank U” stem from a trip Morissette took to India after the PILL tour wound down, and their lyrical approaches could not be more different. “Baba” (Farsi for “father”) takes aim at false gurus and consumerism, while “Thank U,” as its name suggests, is about gratitude, but more than just counting one’s blessings. “Thank you, thank you silence,” she sings, after learning that true appreciation can only come when one slows down and looks around.
“Thank U”’s percussion is informed by hip-hop beats, which also propel songs like “So Pure,” with its dramatic low-end undercurrent, and “UR,” which uses acoustic pop to put forth its bright, almost sprightly sentiments.
Other standouts include “Unsent” – a series of short messages to the loves of her life, summing up her feelings for them then and now. The lyrics are unrhymed; indeed, some lines seem squeezed together by Morissette’s quick diction. The music is lovely, though – acoustic guitars up front, gradual swells of strings behind, and a short harmonica solo at the conclusion. The ballad “That I Would Be Good” curls up in the verses and blossoms when the chorus hits, and the flute solo after the second verse lends an almost pastoral element that, though unexpected, is most definitely welcome. “Joining You” has a similar dynamic, only swapping out crunchy guitars in the verses, leading into a chorus that elevates the song, with its message that there is more to us as spiritual beings than meets the eye.
SUPPOSED FORMER INFATUATION JUNKIE enabled Morissette to parachute back down from the heights of JAGGED LITTLE PILL and have a soft landing. It also showed her to be more than just a fad – she’s a songwriter and performer who to this day gives listeners remarkable work to both ponder and enjoy.
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