Alanis Morissette

Alanis Morissette
Alanis Morissette


Morissette took to music at an early age, and was playing the piano by age six and writing songs by age nine. When she was 10, she took part in ‘You Can’t Do That on Television’, a children’s variety show on the TV network Nickelodeon. After leaving the show’s cast, Morissette was signed to MCA Canada at the age of 14 and, in 1991, she released her debut album, ‘Alanis’ (1991). It sold 100,000 copies and earned her a Juno Award in 1992, for Most Promising Female Vocalist of the Year. The dance-pop album also saw comparisons being drawn between Morissette and other female pop singers at the time like Debbie Gibson, Madonna and Paula Abdul.Her second album, ‘Now Is The Time’ (1992), was a ballad driven album that was slightly less successful than its predecessor. She left MCA soon after, and relocated to Toronto. In 1994, Morissette moved to Los Angeles, where she met songwriter-producer Glen Ballard, who had previously worked with Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand and David Hasselhoff. In spite of her dance-pop beginnings, Ballard and Morissette were determined to pursue an edgier, more ‘alternative’ approach. This resulted in ‘Jagged Little Pill’ (1995), released on Madonna’s Maverick Records.‘Jagged Little Pill’ struck a malodorous chord that resonated with the mainstream CD-buying public that was wallowing in the last throes of grunge, that welcomed an inward-looking, introspective, self-obsessive type of music that was both angry and cathartic. The lead single ‘You Oughta Know’, typified this attitude perfectly – a bitter, harsh song about an unfaithful lover and his cowardice; an anthem for the millions of jilted people who could identify with her when she sang “It was a slap in the face how quickly I was replaced/Are you thinking of me when you f*** her?” With bassist Flea and guitarist Dave Navarro (both in Red Hot Chili Peppers at the time), as well as Taylor Hawkins (later drummer for the Foo Fighters) as her backing band on ‘You Oughta Know’, it was a combination that could not fail.
But the massive hit on that album was ‘Ironic’, a song that perhaps spawned a million discussions on the lyrics of the song and the meaning of the word “irony”. Comedians and philosophers and linguists alike have pointed out that the events in her song could be seen as coincidental, karmic, bittersweet, cruel or just plain unlucky. (Was it ironic that ‘Ironic’ contained no traces of irony?) Pedantry aside, it was not hard to respond, at least with a wry smile, to lyrics like “It's like rain on your wedding day/It's a free ride when you've already paid” and say, “yep, I’ve had one of those days.”The album was a massive success, selling more than 15 million copies in the US alone (10 million in UK and Europe). It won four Grammys for Album of the Year, Best Rock Song and Best Female Vocal Performance for ‘You Oughta Know’ and Best Rock Album. She then embarked on an 18 month world tour that culminated in ‘Jagged Little Pill, Live’ (1997), which won the 1998 Grammy for Best Long Form Music Video.After the tour, Morissette headed to India for six weeks, “the goddess trip”, she calls it. She briefly volunteered at Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity hospital, and also hiked in the Himalayas. She also travelled to Cuba as part of an exchange group (a group that included Leonardo DiCaprio), and it was there she fell in love with actor Dash Mihok (‘The Thin Red Line’ [1998]).In 1998, Morissette was a guest vocalist on Ringo Starr’s album ‘Vertical Man’ (1998), and on The Dave Matthews Band’s ‘Before These Crowded Streets’ (1998). She also recorded the immensely popular song ‘Uninvited’ for the ‘City of Angels’ (1998) soundtrack.
Later that year, her follow-up album ‘Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie’ (1998) was released – to critical acclaim but commercial disappointment. The anger and rawness of ‘Jagged Little Pill’ was gone. ‘Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie’ eschewed traditional song structures and lyrical formation, making it difficult for radio audiences to get to grips with. The profanities and vitriol were dispensed with, and nowhere is this more evident than on the album’s lead single ‘Thank U’ – the lyrics “thank you India” directly referencing her self-discovery trip to the East and her achievement of inner peace. From angry young woman to tranquil hippie, Morissette’s musical, and indeed personal, direction took another 90 degree turn.In 1999, the new transcendent Morissette played God in Kevin Smith’s ‘Dogma’ (1999), also starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. The film, a humorous indictment of organised religion and especially Catholicism, saw Morissette play a non-speaking, slightly playful and very zen personification of a loving God.In 2002, Morissette released her fifth studio album, 'Under Rug Swept' (2002), which featured the hit 'Hands Clean' and ‘So Unsexy’, found the singer-songwriter taking the production reins and delivering arguably her most accomplished album. She was also the sole songwriter and producer for the first time. Later in 2002, she released a DVD called ‘Feast on Scraps’ (2002), which was a DVD of live concert and backstage documentary footage, and a CD containing eight previously unreleased songs from the ‘Under Rug Swept’ recording sessions.
In 2004, ‘So-Called Chaos’ was released, her sixth studio album. In ‘So-Called Chaos’, Morissette “revisit(s) her old themes of verbose insecurity, self-discovery, and empowerment” (The New Rolling Stone Album Guide 2004), but “allow(s) her music to stagnate under a pop sheen that…recycles the techno touches and Middle Eastern flourishes of earlier efforts but this time weds them to the weakest songwriting of her career.” The public seemed to agree, and it was Morissette’s lowest selling album.In 2005, Morissette released an acoustic version of ‘Jagged Little Pill’ to commemorate the album’s tenth anniversary. In the autumn of 2005, she opened for The Rolling Stones on tour, and also released a greatest hits album, ‘Alanis Morissette: The Collection’ (2005). She contributed the song ‘Wunderkind’ to the soundtrack of the film ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’ (2005).In 2007, she recorded a tongue-in-cheek cover of the raunchy and provocative Black Eyed Peas song ‘My Humps’, which she reworked into a piano driven, mournful number. In 2008, she released ‘Flavors of Entanglement’ (2008), where she collaborated with producer Guy Sigsworth (Madonna and Björk). called her lyrics “a mangled web of garbled syntax, overheated metaphors, and mystifying verbal contortions”, while Rolling Stone saw the music as possessing a “vaguely New Age grandeur”. ‘Flavors of Entanglement’ was called a “classic breakup record” by, referring to Morissette’s high publicity split with actor Ryan Reynolds and his subsequent defection to actress and bona fide bombshell Scarlett Johansson.

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