FEATURE: Thank U: Alanis Morissette at Forty-Five: The Playlist




Thank U

PHOTO CREDIT: Mario Anzuoni/Corbis  

Alanis Morissette at Forty-Five: The Playlist


I have been a fan of Alanis Morissette since…

 COVER/PHOTO CREDIT: John Patrick Salisbury

her 1995 breakthrough album, Jagged Little Pill. That album seemed to appear out of nowhere – even though she had released a couple of albums before that – and put her name on the musical map. That is, perhaps, the album most people associate with Morissette but it is not her only golden release – 1998’s Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie is a masterpiece in its own right! Today is Alanis Morissette’s forty-fifth birthday and, in addition to wishing her many happy returns, it is a great opportunity to revisit her brilliant work and, as I love to do it, assemble a playlist. Jagged Little Pill is in the news because it – or a musical about it – is being brought to Broadway. This article provides more details:

Alanis Morissette didn't want her landmark album Jagged Little Pill to become a bio-musical. So when producers approached her eight years ago about bringing the music to the stage, she had some requests.

"I was flattered and my initial thought was, is it going to have to be my story? Because that's terrifying. Maybe one day I'll have the audacity to share it in another form," said Morissette at a launch event for the musical in New York. "The last thing I wanted to do — to be transparent — was any kind of a jukebox musical or anything that felt compartmentalized or separate."

The cast and creative team gathered at Haswell Green's in Midtown on Tuesday night to share songs from the show and to talk about the genesis of the production. The musical premiered at American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, last summer and is scheduled to start performances on Broadway in November.

A.R.T. artistic director and Tony winner Diane Paulus stages the new musical, which has a book by Diablo Cody, a 2008 Oscar winner for her original screenplay for Juno.

The show takes those songs and weaves them through a timely, female-driven story about characters dealing with issues ranging from addiction and gender identity through sexual assault. The songs take on new life onstage, yet retain their inherent drama. "You Outta Know" is still an anthemic breakup song, and "All I Really Want" becomes an opening "I Want" song for a family struggling to communicate.

"I have learned more from Alanis and the thoughts she's given me and the books she's told me to read about understanding, which is key to this musical," Paulus said. "We cannot heal anything that we are hurting about if we're alone. Everything is done in relationship to other people and that is fundamental to what she's given us."

Cody crafted a story by zeroing in on characters that already existed in the album. She started with the central figure of Mary Jane from Morissette's song of the same name. In the musical, Mary Jane is a mother struggling with addiction and mental health, distancing herself from her marriage and children.

"That song tells you everything you need to know about that woman, and so I was able to build it out from there," Cody explained. "I just feel very fortunate to have this incredible, theatrically rich, beautiful source material to work from. It's not a typical jukebox musical situation where you're thinking, 'How can I shoehorn this hit into the story?'"

The musical/show is a great chance for people to see a new side to an album that garnered a huge amount of praise upon its release. It would be unfair to link Morissette with the one album but, with songs such as You Outta Know, Hand in My Pocket and Ironic in the pack, one cannot overlook its brilliance. I always found myself supporting Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. Released in 1998, songs such as Thank U and Unsent were hits and (the album) received widespread critical acclaim. AllMusic, in this retrospective review, were very positive and complimentary:

Also, she has clearly spent some time crafting her lyrics; not only do they never sound like straight diary entries, she no longer is trying to fit too many syllables into a phrase. These two differences are subtle -- the brooding, Eastern-styled music that dominates Supposed is not. There are numerous extensions of the vague hip-hop and pop fusions that made "Hand in Pocket" and "All I Really Want" huge hits ("Front Row," "UR," "Thank U," "So Pure"), but much of the album is devoted to moody ballads and mid-tempo pop, where the textured production functions as a backdrop for Morissette's cryptically introspective lyrics. Far from being alienating, this approach works surprisingly well -- not only do the pop tunes sound catchier, but the ballads, with their winding melodies and dark colors, sound strong and brave. If anything, the record is more coherent album than its predecessor, and even if it isn't as accessible or as compulsively listenable, it's a richer record. That said, it won't win any new fans -- for all of her success, Morissette is a weird acquired taste, due to her idiosyncratic vocals and doggedly convoluted confessionals -- but it certainly confirms that she doesn't quite sound like anyone else, either”.


IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

Morissette’s last album, 2012’s havoc and bright lights, is a very different beast to her golden days but it did show that she was capable of evolution and changing styles without compromising monster choruses and catchiness. I wonder whether she is planning more material or, with a musical in full swing, things are a bit busy. When Jagged Little Pill was released, it not only won awards and big reviews, but it influenced a score of female artists – including Shakira, Meredith Brooks and P!nk. It is the timelessness of Jagged Little Pills best moments that make you realise nobody like Alanis Morissette has arrived since. Before rounding off, I wanted to bring in a Variety article from last year that featured Alanis Morissette as she prepared Jagged Little Pill for the stage. She (alongside Diablo Cody) talked about the album and some of its themes; why feeling angry was a force for good:

I see anger as this gorgeous life force,” said Morissette. “It’s actually one of my favorite feelings because it’s a catalyst. The destructive version of anger gets such a bad rap—the destructive acting out and lack of maturity and inability to contain it gets the bad rap. And our traumas can create so many different personality disorders to the point where the empathy is gone, the curiosity is gone...

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

 [...] Those are the first things to go and connect us as human beings. . .this disconnect with ourselves and each other is becoming normalized, to the point where our health is being affected. Our wellbeing. A lot of us are anxious and depressed. And it’s no wonder that we are.”

“One of the big lessons for me, sitting in the audience—which was very surreal—was taking in how these relation-ial interactions are healing,” said Morissette. “Writing is such a cathartic experience. . .I thought I could just get away with writing in my journal and just writing songs for the rest of my life—and never have to deal with human beings. But it didn’t work. It was incredible to work with Diablo and [director Diane Paulus]. . . because it was so healing”.

If Alanis Morissette’s most-famous album is coming back strong in a new guise, we cannot ignore her other work and what she has given to music through the years. To celebrate her forty-fifth birthday, I am ending with a forty-five-song playlist that charts her beginnings right through to her most-recent album. If you are new to Morissette’s music, I urge you to listen and discover this fantastic and unique force. Listen to some of her interviews online and just listen to the way she speaks – so passionate and compelling. She is a hugely inspiring artist who has made a huge impact on music and continues to amaze. Today is a sunny and pretty hot day and, to round it off, I feel like everyone should play the Alanis Morissette playlist below and end it in style. Happy birthday to Alanis Morissette and let’s hope there are many more albums from the…

CANADIAN superstar.