42. Jagged Little Pill

42. Jagged Little Pill– Alanis Morissette (1995)

How: I’m sure I first heard songs from Jagged Little Pill in my parents’s car as a toddler in the mid-90s, but I’m positive that I re-discovered Alanis Morissette watching the badass “Eight Easy Steps” video on VH1 in 2004. That video did a pretty good job in introducing me to every filmed touchstone in Morissette’s career, and the adult soft rock radio my mother listened to filled in the gaps with constant repeats of “Ironic,” “You Oughta Know,” and “Hand in My Pocket.” That was also around the time I got my iTunes account, and along with Beck’s OdelayPill was one of the first two albums I bought from the iTunes Store.

I certainly didn’t know this at the time, but apparently female singer-songwriters dominated the mid-90s, and Morissette saw the most success of a stellar group that included Sarah McLachlan, Allison Krauss, Liz Phair, Fiona Apple, PJ Harvey, Erykah Badu, Bjork, and many others. Ironically, she’s probably enjoyed the least success of anyone in that group since Pill won Album of the Year in 1996 (I certainly can’t name any post-Pill song other than “Eight Easy Steps”), but nineteen years later, she remains the flag bearer for a movement in which women broke through by exploiting universally felt emotions. They also had talent, though.

Why: Though Morissette broke through in a league of different voices writing about familiar feelings, Pill stands out because the feelings she chose to present on the album express the explicit pain of a straight female. Well-thought-out lines like “wait a minute sir/you kinda hurt my feelings” couldn’t be found on many albums done by male-singer songwriters during that time, and this distance between general pain and gender-specific pain gives Pill its unique identity and provides it with a punch that makes it such an endearing and wise album. It’s this gender specificity that makes “You Oughta Know” such a frightening song to listen to for any straight males out there who have wronged a woman. Morissette may be a good musician, period, but we can’t ignore Morissette’s female identity in her music because she sings as if she doesn’t want us to.

That being said, there’s a lot more to Morissette than the angry white girl image the “You Oughta Know” video gave her. Pill presents plenty of vitriole, most effectively on “You Oughta Know,” and notably on “Right Through You” and “All I Really Want,” but the album provides a much bigger spectrum on her feelings than her music videos hint at. For example, Morissette doesn’t get nearly enough credit for her tender moments found on “Perfect,” and “Mary Jane,” two of the stronger songs on the album. She also isn’t recognized enough for her mastery of pop on songs like “Not The Doctor,” “You Learn,” and most especially on “Ironic.” It would be appropriate here to mention how ironic it is that Morissette recorded a song called “Ironic” whose subject matter isn’t the slightest bit ironic, but I wouldn’t debase myself to write such stale analysis.

Morissette is wonderful at crafting a melody, but Pill is more about her A+ lyricism than anything else. Take this one from “Not The Doctor,” for example: “I don’t want to be the sweeper of the eggshells that you walk upon/And I don’t want to be your other half/I believe that one and one make two.” Or this one, from “Head Over Feet”: “You are the bearer of unconditional things/you held your breath and the door for me/thanks for your patience.” Or how about this one, her first breath on the entire album: “Do I stress you out?/My sweater is on backwards and it’s inside-out/and you say ‘how…appropriate.'” Her lyrics aren’t Fiona Apple-like poetry, but they’re pretty close.

Morissette wasn’t nearly the best of the mid-90s female singer-songwriters, but she was easily the most accessible. Fiona was too sad. Bjork was too weird. Krauss was too country. McLachlan was too PETA-y. Morissette was a little bit of everything but not too much of anything, and it’s that sort of flexibility that made her the perfect combination of critical darling and chart-topping behemoth. Pill is probably one of the few “Albums of the Year” that deserved its recognition.

Up Next: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Chords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do- Fiona Apple (2012).

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