Alanis Morissette: MTV Unplugged


By Chris Massey

I want to invite Ms. Morissette down to my local coffee shop. Sister’s is a quaint hole in an arty cube, much like any other coffee shop, and Alanis would fit right in. The tone on her MTV Unplugged album is distinctly personal, even though it was recorded at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I wonder if Alanis would mind very much a free visit to the local coffee shop?

Probably not, but this album would certainly be welcome when there aren’t live performances down at Sister’s. There are three new songs on MTV Unplugged: “No Pressure Over Cappuccino,” “These R The Thoughts,” and “Princes Familiar,” the two latter titles having been written for but not included on Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. There’s even a folksy cover of The Police’s “King of Pain.” The rest of the album is packed full of previously published iconic Alanis music, translated for the medium of the evening—acoustic, of course.

So how does the frustrated music of Alanis “I-have-a-massive-fucking-chip-on-my-shoulder” Morissette fare when translated to the acoustic medium? Thankfully, very well. The hateful edge of the original music is lost throughout, after you take away the distorted rock guitars and throw a folksy curve at the dozen songs. What emerges from the music hereon is a sophistication not immediately apparent in either of Alanis’ previous efforts and this, in itself, is refreshing, even though it might not appeal to hardcore lovers of Alanis’ music and message.

Ms. Morissette’s band is on board. As a result, the acoustic backdrop to her wonderful voice isn’t always as sparse and bare as I like to hear my acoustic music. It’s a very full band and for much of the album the sound is very, very thick. Nevertheless, her vocals manage to overpower the wall of acoustic maneuvering.

“King of Pain” comes across exceedingly well. Sting’s haunting vocals on the original song by The Police are almost overshadowed by the similarly chilling vocals of Alanis herself—almost. Overall, however, the song sounds awesome. When the band kicks in—the bass is almost overpowering—and Alanis belts out the familiar chorus “I have stood here before inside the pouring rain / With the world turning circles, running around my brain,” the power is outstanding.

The three new songs are nothing particularly striking, but of the three, my favorite has to be “No Pressure Over Cappuccino.” I love the tinkle of the piano in the background and the stuttering snare that snaps and taps here and there. When she marches the lyrics “Well you may never be or have a husband you may never have or hold a child / You will learn to lose everything we are temporary arrangements” past your ears, the emotion is strongly unconscious. That is the power of her voice—it’s not beating you over the head with flaky female machismo on MTV Unplugged, it’s stroking your mind. It’s certainly something different from previous Alanis Morissette. I hope she’ll follow up on her next album.

Likewise, I like the music on MTV Unplugged more than any music I’ve heard from Alanis in the past. I like the intimate setting. It would seem she’s made for fronting a massive acoustic ensemble and scorching the ceilings of acoustic amphitheatres. The haunting finale, “Uninvited,” is powerful music, to say the least, tinged as it is by an Eastern flare and firmly illuminated by the souring wings of Alanis’ vocals, the perfect close for the album and symbolic of what Ms. Morissette is capable of, far better than the original.

She may be a flake, but she’s a damned talented flake.

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