From her fame in the 1990s, Alanis Morissette is often remembered as a woman scorned, confronting us with brazen, confessional lyrics (just have a listen to “You Oughta Know”, the monster Grammy-winning hit off her 1995 album, Jagged Little Pill, if you need a refresher) from behind an incongruous mane of Pre-Raphaelite tresses.
Alanis today seems effusive, quick to laugh and decidedly happy. Not exactly what I would have expected. But then, it has been some time since we’ve seen her take sweeping charge of the pop-rock scene, as she did with Jagged Little Pill—in fact the 10th best-selling album of all time—and as she’s ramping up to do now. Her first studio album in four years, entitled Flavors of Entanglement, was released in June.
The album, as I would have expected, is no wallflower. While packing in bagfuls of her characteristic emotionality, Flavors of Entanglement (a lyric from the song “Moratorium”, in which she declares a break from all things relationship) is Alanis reborn, stoically embracing her new rites of passage and offering lots of sonic novelty for her fans to sink their teeth into.
The ubiquitously quoted sound bite is, “I wrote this album in real time.” But I press on, and to my question of what brought her out of studio hiatus, Alanis freely doles out, “I was in the middle of my personal life disassembling. I needed to chronologize it. To be honest, I needed to express myself, to get it out of my body so I wouldn’t get sick.”
Evidently over it, the trauma she intimates is her very public romance and subsequent split from actor Ryan Reynolds. “I’ve never been in a relationship that was so publicly acknowledged. … It was interesting, but not something I’m dying to revisit,” she says. Although, with seven of the 11 tracks eulogizing relationships, including the first single, “Underneath”, it’s hard not to see the hand her last romance had in forging the album.
But that’s just the potatoes. The meat, what really delivers with this album, is her collaboration with producer and electronica master Guy Sigsworth of Frou Frou fame, also known for his work with artists such as Björk, Lamb and Bebel Gilberto. “I heard the song ‘Let Go’ he did with Imogen Heap, and I just loved it,” says Alanis. “I thought, Wow—here’s someone who can have a sonic landscape that is so clean and pure, but also have such a deep soul at the same time.”
Sigsworth co-wrote the album, resulting in a captivating marriage of her melodic voice and loaded lyrics and his mastery of telling the story through an emotive bevy of experimental sounds. Known to enjoy a little dancing, Alanis welcomes Sigsworth’s bottomless bag of pop tricks, including hip-hop beats, dancey loops and layers of organic-sounding, world-inspired synths. “It was much easier for me this time around,” says Alanis. “I just wanted to write the music and let go, let some genius take a stab at it. … The fact that there was more of a technological slant on it allowed for a lot more nuance—with an organic rock sound you have 20 things to choose from, but with technology you have 20 million. Guy really got me—he’d often say, ‘What Horseman of the Apocalypse is coming in today, Alanis?’ and then take it from there.”
The reviews have been very positive, and the buzz is that this hybrid incarnation of Alanis will far outlive her previous albums that had the nigh-impossible task of following Jagged Little Pill.
Coupled with the new musical direction, her voice—her signature unbridled lilting—has been reined in, in favour of a crisper and, indeed, more mature and powerful sound. “I would like to think that I’ve emotionally matured. I’d say around Jagged Little Pill, I was probably 11 years old emotionally, and now I’m about 15…” She laughs. “Yeah, we’ll get to my real age at some point.”