Alanis Morissette, Havoc and Bright Lights, Collective Sounds
The success of Alanis Morissette in the mid-nineties was a surprise. Considering that her manager did not expect her to sell more than 250,000 copies, the fact that the woman behind Jagged Little Pill went on to become the best-selling female rock artist of all time – and even play God in a feature film – is a little ironic. Don’t you think? The singer’s media presence has been a little less manifest of recent years. Until today’s release of Havoc and Bright Lights, her eighth studio album, Morissette hadn’t put out a single for four years. NME even started captioning pictures of her as Fiona Apple.
Havoc and Bright Lights is produced by Guy Sigsworth (Bjork, Madonna) and Joe Chiccarelli (Tori Amos), and is made of the same blend of sincere, confessional storytelling that fans may be used to; Morissette describes it as her “emotional, psychological, social and philosophical commentary through song.” Conceptually, the album deals with topics that the singer has not touched on before, with recent events in her life feeding into her artistic process. Both marriage and motherhood are explored as well as the musings on relationships and spirituality that fans will be more familiar with.
Opening track and new single ‘Guardian’ immediately stands out as one of the finest songs on the album, with its guitar-driven harmony leaving no doubt that Morissette is still a rock chick at heart – even if later tracks fail to live up to this expectation. For a song that could have been a feminist battle cry, the upbeat-sounding ‘Woman Down’ is a little disappointing lyrically. Conversely, for a song about bullets and prisoners ‘Til You’ sounds a lot like something you’d dance to at your senior prom.
Track four is where things start to turn around. On its first listen, ‘Celebrity’ seems like another throwaway song about the enviable negativities of stardom. Then the listener notices the line “I am a tattooed sexy dancing monkey,” sung with the singer’s perfect banshee-like delivery, and remembers that for an artist who does sincerity so well, Morissette is damn good at doing mocking, too. After all, this is the woman who covered Black-Eyed Peas’ ‘My Humps’ with the kind of deadpan that would made Aubrey Plaza jealous.
The new Morissette sound is wistful, hopeful and, dare we say it, even cheerful at times. Listeners searching for the bitter girl who gave us tracks like ‘Hands Clean’ and ‘You Oughtta Know’ – songs to wrench our hearts and our guts, will not find her here. This is not to say that the album lacks grit – ‘Edge of Evolution’ and ‘Guardian’ are easy enough to rock out to. But overall, the flavour of Havoc and Bright Lights is one of contentment. With the nineties revival that’s happening right now, we imaginethat her label is pretty content too.