Alanis Morissette is an emotive songwriter—it’s what she does. But back before she stood naked on a subway and thanked everything from Providence to India, the emotion that she evoked best was angst. Taking the phallic world in which she lived down a peg or two seemed her only goal. Similar to Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville, Jagged Little Pill was a bitch manifesto for the disenfranchised by an artist out to remind the pop world that women could be vindictive and spiteful and tender at the same time. Morissette’s debut was bold and confident and, most importantly, honest.
Now Alanis Morissette is all grown up and has found some peace. With it has come serenity. Jagged Little Pill Acoustic reflects this absolutely. Where there was once a sense of honesty, there is now a sense of the ironic (not like the song). Somehow hearing an older, wiser Alanis Morissette sing “Perfect” doesn’t echo with the simultaneous tenderness and spite that it once did, nor do the resigned optimism of “Hand in My Pocket” and brashness of “Right Through You” make much sense. In fact, this new collection of songs has almost without exception left behind all that was good about the original album. The once fist-raising anthems for the Lilith generation have been replaced by the bland.
The first time I heard the lyrics to “You Oughta Know”, I winced a little and felt a little bit worse about my gender. On Jagged Little Pill Acoustic I wince, but for entirely different reasons. The noisy backdrop that once embodied much of Morissette’s torment has been replaced by the uninspired and her older, wiser voice over-sings the simplest lines. Subtlety has never been her strong suit, but against Glen Ballard’s big production the missteps sounded like a voice so overwrought with emotion that it couldn’t help itself. On Jagged Little Pill Acoustic it just sounds like she’s showing off.
The one exception to the characterless songs on Jagged Little Pill Acoustic is “Not the Doctor”. Though I’m sure she no doubt meant what she said when she wrote the song 10 years ago, now when she sings “I don’t want to be the filler if the void is solely yours”, it sounds less like she’s trying to convince herself—this time she really means it. And, when she curtly sings, “I don’t want to be adored for what I merely represent to you”, she delivers what is arguably the most insightful lyric of the album with more confidence and spite than she did previously. The stripped away sound of the new version, anchored by cadenced drums and droning 12 strings, actually accentuates her voice and lends intensity to the song.
This is the one and only exception. Surprising as it is that an artist couldn’t successfully update at least two of their 12 best songs, it is more surprising that Alanis Morissette actually made “Ironic” worse. This was a song, even in its original form, that I cannot rally behind. Maybe the reason is because in high school it inspired obnoxious singing silly folks with wine coolers. Maybe it is because the song isn’t really ironic. Maybe that’s the irony. I don’t know. What I do know, is that this song nearly drove me to the edge of a cliff in 1995, and still does today. On the “Ironic” redux, Morissette’s voice oscillates to the point of irritation and the lyrics seem even more absurd than they did all those years ago, when I would embarrass for my peers and bury my head in the ground to try to avoid dying a little inside.
PopMatters recently published a fantastic piece titled, “You Oughta Know Better”, which effectively details the import that Jagged Little Pill once carried and why an acoustic collection of those same songs released 10 years later, marketed through Starbucks is, to say the least, not in the spirit of the original. So, I won’t delve into the reasons here (though you should check out the article). But what is sad, beyond Morissette’s complete abandonment of everything that made her important, is how willingly she trampled on her legacy and her fans. For some reason Morissette decided that the best way to commemorate her most important contribution to the music community was to completely marginalize it. In the process, she has thumbed her nose at her legacy and her fans. The legacy is hers to do with what she will, but Jagged Little Pill was important to a lot of people and that deserves to remain undisturbed. Hell, even if you aren’t a fan, listening to an artist turn a collection of once-revered music into innocuous pop drivel is offensive.
Whatever your thoughts are of the original album, this updated version isn’t going to improve your opinion of the songs or of Morissette as an artist. Gone are the redeeming qualities that made Jagged Little Pill a definitive album. In their stead is a collection of songs rehashed and dandified by an artist content to drag her legacy through the mud. Speaking of legacies, Maybe Alanis could front INXS Version II. That way she, Tim Farriss, and Dave Navarro can occupy each other enough to keep them from offending anyone else for a little while.