The importance of being Alanis
Alanis Morissette busted out of the gate 13 years ago with "Jagged Little Pill," an album that redefined romantic purging. And while she's turned out some interesting music since, nothing has matched the emotional wallop of Morissette's debut.
"Flavors of Entanglement" arrives in the wake of the artiste's split with her fiancé, actor Ryan Reynolds, but Morissette's approach to her pain, and everything else, has evolved. Personal growth and spiritual transcendence are the pillars of Morissette's music and world, so rather than catharsis, the audience gets a healthy balance of heartbreak and self-affirmation spread out in all its wacky syntactical glory against a Guy Sigsworth (who has worked extensively with Bjork and Madonna) backdrop: dense electronics, vaguely exotic strains, beats lifted from the dance floor and the '80s.
Talking about her recent break-up, Morissette says, "I think it's the straw that breaks the camel's back. It's having had too many of them. And I was a full-blown love addict, so it was like, 'I can't keep doing this, my body can't take it.' Break-ups are a horrible thing for almost everybody I know. For someone who is a love addict, it's debilitating.
"I've been on a constant journey toward finally surrendering and hitting the rock bottom that I've been avoiding my whole life... So this was a huge, critical juncture for me. Everything broke, and it was an amazing and horrifying time."
Not surprisingly, you can hear all about it on her new album. While it touches on other themes, and is not framed as a literal blow-by-blow account, the 11 songs describe knotty conflicts and the pain of separation. It's a cluttered affair with bleeping, buzzing lows (harshly ambient tracks like "Straightjacket" and "Versions of Violence") and a handful of humble high points in a pair of lovely piano ballads.
"Torch" is a lilting list of what Morissette misses in her departed lover ("your smell and your style and your pure abiding way"), while "Not As We" unfolds like a grief-stricken memo to self: "Day one, day one, start over again/ Step one, step one, I am barely making sense/ For now I'm faking it, till I am pseudo making it/ From scratch, begin again, but this time I as I and not as we."
More of the songs -- "Not as We," "Moratorium," "Giggling Again for No Reason" -- are drawn from the prolonged aftermath of the break-up, a process leading to what Morissette calls "the Phoenix rising."
"I entered into my own version of rehab. I went to therapy five days a week, I journaled, I had a lot of support from this incredible group of friends...It was just really moment by moment, step by step, snail's pace..."
While Morissette has been known for raw candour since her landmark 1995 album "Jagged Little Pill," parts of "Flavors" take it to a new level. This time she didn't need to call on the journals she usually uses as a catalyst, because the events were unfolding as she was working on the music in London and Los Angeles.
"There is an immediacy in that it was all written in real time," she says. "A lot of times I'll write in retrospect. These songs were written in the exact present moment as it was happening, so that may be something that's palpably felt on the record."
A lot of that immediacy also stems from Morissette's unusual method of lyric writing, which is pretty much stream-of-consciousness.
"Typically I go in the studio and whatever I'm contemplating that day will wind up being a song. I don't come in with lyrics... I just go in and let it happen...
On working with Morissette, Sigsworth, says, "So many of my ideas about songwriting have been changed by working with her, because she works so fast as a writer and gets the raw statement of the song so precisely so quickly."
"There were songs where I would listen and be almost in tears and think, 'Where did this come from? There was nothing here this morning.'"
Compiled by Cultural Correspondent