Alanis Morissette - Such Pretty Forks in the Road Music Album Reviews

On her first album in eight years, the iconic singer-songwriter continues to take the lyrical road less traveled on a vulnerable, sedate, ballad-heavy album. 

It’s fair to say that Alanis Morissette, a once omnipresent cultural icon, has slowly receded from view. As seemingly every millisecond of the ’90s has been reassessed and re-released and homaged, the musician whose 1995 album Jagged Little Pill was once the biggest album in the world (and by long-term sales, is still massive) and who became a template for the next several years of outspoken female pop-rockers, has long been under what one writer called “the curse of the CD binder.”
Part of it’s that her back catalog has either aged horribly (just imagine the respose to “Thank U”) or aged surprisingly well: Jagged Little Pill, obviously, but also “Hands Clean” from 2002’s Under Rug Swept—a song that dissects a sexual predator’s grooming with medical precision and corpse-grinning horror—and 2008’s Flavors of Entanglement, which matches late-’00s electropop at its game before the game even fully started. The other part of it is that, you-know-which song aside, she’s a zero-irony artist in an irony-poisoned world. The title of Such Pretty Forks in the Road is illustrative; if mainstream pop took one fork, Alanis continued down her orthogonal path, and soon it became entirely her own. Jagged Little Pill was credited as much to megaproducer Glen Ballard as to her, but if it wasn’t clear by the 2000s that she was a creative force, it’s clear here. She’s working with Troye Sivan and Selena Gomez’s producer, making a kind of music with more and more revivalists, and she still sounds like nobody else.

More so than on previous albums, Morrissette dips into less poppy singer-songwriter tricks. “Ablaze” and “Sandbox Love” are like lost, exuberant ’90s VH1 hits: rides on an abandoned pop-rock roller coaster. The dissonant piano that encircles “Reckoning” is all the more effective for no longer being cliché. Lead single “Reasons I Drink” is built atop a jaunty cabaret piano line and that sets up a huge chorus only to let it trail off before the payoff, too fallible for the façade; it’s like a tipsy, half-remembered karaoke version of Heart’s “Alone.” Among her reasons to drink are her hyper-productivity and the “sick industry,” which are even more relevant than when Morrissette was (her words) in “single digits.” And yet there’s something ineffably two-decades-ago about lines like “That’s it, I am buying a Lamborghini to make up for these” or, later on the album, “I am grieving the end of super-womaning.”

Not that that’s bad, entirely. By Morissette’s standards, Pretty Forks is a vulnerable, sedate, ballad-heavy album. Most of those ballads are unobtrusive, with songwriting-template piano and strings plush and regular as amphitheater seats. But a piano ballad by Alanis is still an Alanis song, and thus it just won’t sound like the rest, not with music’s most chaotic-neutral pop lyricist. Whether she actually writes like this, her songs sure sound first-thought-best-thought, no workshopping and no curation, let the syllables fall where they may.

And for this, she’s taken two and a half decades of shit. But there’s a method to the badness. For every awkward meter or future mondegreen, Alanis produces a lyric that’s charmingly handspun. “Ablaze,” written for her children, could easily be unbearably saccharine if it were just a dedication; instead, it’s specifically, wildly hers. When the songs are funny, she’s often in on the joke, like on the bleak, quavery “Diagnosis,” a dispatch from the world where you really just can’t: “I can’t remember where the sentence started when I’m trying to finish it.” If Morrissette writes mostly in epigraphs, the ones on “Pedestal” recall nothing less than Rita Hayworth (who famously said, of her titular role in the film noir classic Gilda, “Men go to bed with Gilda but wake up with me.”) Morissette’s version, “One day I won’t be craved the way you crave me now,” is more awkward but also more disarming; with a slight personal tweak, she turns the song from fear of abandonment to fear of the world’s abandonment. She knows what she’s doing.

These U-turns of phrase are well within bounds of what you expect from an Alanis Morissette album. But her music still has surprises, and she saves the most rewarding one for the end. “Nemesis,” like much of Pretty Forks, begins midtempo and pro forma. But across six minutes, it snowballs into something large, picking up element after element. Trance chimes, galloping “Running Up That Hill”-drums, buttinsky electric guitar and cellos coalesce into what sure sounds like an Alanis banger in 2020. Ironically, the song itself is about hating change—you don’t need an homage to ’90s Alanis when she’s still finding new ways to do “Alanis” herself.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Alanis Morissette - Such Pretty Forks in the Road Music Album Reviews Alanis Morissette - Such Pretty Forks in the Road Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Thursday, August 13, 2020 Rating:

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