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Alanis Morissette - The Silence Is Over

by Jennifer Vineyard - taken from mtv.com


The meek might inherit the earth, but it's the mighty who roar back at their exes who'll own the top of the charts.

Alanis Morissette oughta know — after her 1995 breakthrough album, Jagged Little Pill, went down so uneasily that the world couldn't help but take notice, she turned soft and spiritual, thanking India on 1998's Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie yet disappointing those who looked to her to express their inner vitriol for them — enlightenment never did taste as sweet as revenge.

For her upcoming third album, Under Rug Swept, Morissette reclaims her angry bad self — at least in part. Say hello again to "Mr. Duplicity" — otherwise known as the "You Oughta Know" guy. Remember that song's war cry, "I'm here to remind you/ Of the mess you left when you went away"? Now, two albums post-Jagged, we finally get to the mess itself. Under Rug Swept may not shock like Jagged, but it dusts off the same topics — love, sex, cruelty — with the added vantage of years spent growing up and getting over the man who vexed her so. Morissette hasn't lost her bite, though she has discovered a spoonful of redemption helps the revenge go down.

"There was an element of my wanting to absolve myself of certain things that I had been repressing for a long time," the singer said. "As I've grown older, I had a tendency as a Canadian, as a woman, as someone from the family that I grew up in to focus singularly on the positive elements of this and not focus on some of the shadowy, darker stuff. And now I realize that including all of it makes the picture really whole."

The "picture" is the relationship that started in her mid-teens and continued through her early 20s. "I don't know if you could call it first love, but it was the first something," she said with a laugh. Careful listeners may have already picked up clues to the nature of the relationship and its demise, which are sprinkled throughout both Jagged and Swept — he was older and he left her for an older woman.

There are clues, too, of the damage left in the relationship's wake — specifically Morissette's eating disorders. It's no secret she has rampant body-image issues, a recurring theme throughout her work which finds her obsessing Bridget Jones-style about weight, food and the impossibility of obtaining or maintaining a "perfect" body. Such songs as "Mary Jane" and "Perfect" on Jagged and "That I Would Be Good" and "Thank U" on Supposed testify to this.

Morissette comes clean about the origin of her weight obsession on "Hands Clean," the first single from Under Rug Swept, which brings to the forefront abusive comments made by her longtime ex that shaped her constant questioning of whether she could ever be thin enough, good enough. She sings his comments from his perspective in the verses and answers him from the present in the chorus and bridge, creating a virtual "he said, she said" confrontation between the two. "I might want to marry you one day if you'd watch that weight and keep your firm body," goes one such line of his — one that he apparently said to her when she was all of 14.

"There was a lot of focus on what the external was," Morissette said, "and God bless him and God bless society on some level for having that take, but it was definitely at odds with what my take was, which is that our bodies are instruments and fun in terms of them being ornaments ... I struggled with eating disorders all through my teen years, and some of it was because of that, and some of it was just because of magazines and society and messages and family and school and everything. It's not one singular person that can be pointed at."

Still, his remark stung, and Morissette ended up going the reverse route — focusing on her internal life, while coming to terms with and eventually exposing her external self, even when it meant facing ridicule. After all, appearing naked as she did in the "Thank U" video takes chutzpah. Morissette said she's taking the same path — brazen nakedness — with her lyrics, because only by doing so can she understand her experience. Part of the chorus of "Hands Clean" is the breaking of a promise she once made to keep things under wraps.

"I wanted to focus on certain things that I hadn't been talking about, about this particular relationship and writing it for myself," she said. "Just to speak it, so I could actually remember what had happened because it did get to a point where I was forgetting almost, decidedly so ... I basically wanted to be as honest about this situation with this person from my past because I had sort of promised to be silent about so many things, at the cost of myself, really. So writing about it was more about wanting to finally speak the truth about it to myself more so than wanting to seek revenge of any sort on this person."

More so than taking her ex to task, Morissette triumphs merely by asserting her own musical self — by writing, producing and arranging the entire work on her own; there's no Glen Ballard/Svengali figure guiding her this time. Not that that was according to plan, but over the course of her past two albums, she picked up enough skills to do it her way.

"I went to Toronto to write," she said, "and I didn't know whether I'd be writing songs for the record alone or with someone. I had no idea, but I started writing alone, and within the first week I'd written seven songs. So it was all really fast and accelerated, and I think 'Hands Clean' was maybe the 10th song that I wrote and I just wrote it with a guitar in a room. I'd have my little space station worked out where it was like a keyboard, an acoustic, an electric, my journal and a microphone set up, and we'd record it all onto DAT.

"I'm not a tinkerer, but I did tinker like a madwoman on that bridge [to 'Hands Clean'] for some reason, and I've never done that before," she continued. "If something's a belabored process, I usually just throw it out. If it's coming too much from my mind, I can't stand it. I think I wrote four bridges for that song, and I hated all of them, and then, finally, in Los Angeles, I wrote the bridge. Some of the bridges were a little harsh and not exactly saying what I wanted to say, either musically or lyrically, and then finally, it did."

While "Hands Clean" gives closure, other songs such as "21 Things" open up the door to new beginnings. (It's basically a want ad for what she's looking for in a mate; qualified candidates should log on to her Web site, she jokes). Under Rug Swept doesn't follow a definite timeline, but it does trace the story of the ending of one relationship and the start of another. "That's certainly not where the whole story ends," she said with a laugh, "but that's where the record story ends."

With the delays in the album's release — it was originally slated for last year — due to contract negotiations with her label, Maverick, Morissette had extra time to rethink some of her songs and bring aboard more guest players (including Me'Shell Ndegeocello, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, former Jane's Addiction bassist Eric Avery and Stone Temple Pilots guitarist Dean DeLeo). And during her off-time between sessions, she traveled around the globe extensively, something from which she derives much inspiration, even if it's just to clear her mind and figure out her goals, she said. She even spent some time on a Navajo reservation.

"There's a thread of continuity, subject matter-wise, that permeates not only every trip I take, but every interaction I have," she said. "And it undoubtedly influences what I write. The sense of community the Navajo people really focus on, there's a similar sense of community I felt when I traveled, when we toured through the Middle East. It permeates what I yearn for and I try to create it as best as I can through the songs or in my personal life."

Some of Morissette's yearnings are obvious ("Utopia"), others less so. The end result of her wanderings and wonderings is a collection of songs on Under Rug Swept that land smack in the middle, stylistically, between textured Jagged-esque tunes ("21 Things") and soft and subtle Supposed-like songs ("Utopia"). It lurches between the sweeping pop of "So Unsexy" and the monumental rock of "A Man," the closest she comes to reaching the high drama of her promising "City of Angels" soundtrack contribution, "Uninvited."

Morissette continues her use of eccentric phrasing and non-rhyming lyrics on Under Rug Swept, a writing style loved by her biggest fans and smirked at by her most critical detractors. She tumbles her words out, almost awkwardly, with a bent towards run-on sentences and repetition as her main structural devices. Some might call it crimes against the English language, others stream-of-consciousness. The track "21 Things" is the most guilty of this, since it exists in a list form: "Do you derive joy when someone else succeeds?/ Do you not play dirty when engaged in competition?/ Do you have a big intellectual capacity but know that it alone does not equate wisdom?" Her lyrics don't always seem "musical," but that is her goal — to create a melody out of something that doesn't immediately lend itself to the structure of a typical song.

"I wound up being structured sometimes, but by default," she said. "Because I'm telling a story, I've often found that when I write poems — and I loosely call them poems because I don't really think they're poems — but when I write anything, especially songs, the verses themselves become the different chapters and the choruses are almost like the revelation of the song and the bridge is the reflection. So the structure typically used in a song is actually helpful to me because it helps me take the whole trajectory of the song and have it be exactly what I want it to be."

Though Under Rug Swept seems to have a certain sense of closure in itself, almost like a salve to the relationships it addresses, Morissette insists that this isn't the end. She said she had so much material at the end of her extra sessions she has a full disc's worth of songs ready for Maverick to release later in the year.

"I don't know if it'll be an album," she explained, "but we shot a lot of the making of the record, so we're probably going to put it together in some shape or form, and then maybe have some of the songs that weren't included on this record be included in the package ... I wanted to share them. I didn't want to throw them out ... I feel like I want to write a whole other record right now."