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A gentler Morissette flies solo on 'Swept'

by Christina E Stephens

If the world needed any indication that Alanis Morissette isn't really the man-hating queen of anger and movie-theatre head, she gives one on her latest album.

'I might want to marry you one day/If you watch that weight and you keep your firm body,' she sings, from the perspective of a past lover on the track 'Hands Clean.'

And no, she doesn't reply with a profanity riddled chorus blaming him for being evil, as critics of Alanis and her 'You Oughta Know' persona would think.

Instead, she admits that she's kept her mouth shut all these years about this older, would-be suitor.

Morissette released 'Under Rug Swept,' her third studio album, Tuesday after almost three and a half years of silence. The much-anticipated 11-track disc showcases her maturity, both lyrically and sonically, and allows her to try her hand at producing. On 'Swept' she abandons long-time producer Glen Ballard (Dave Matthews Band, Aerosmith) and flies solo.

The result: a more packaged-sounding album. Some may call it more 'pop,' but packaging isn't always a bad thing. Morissette's music is much more layered and her lyrics are more focused.

She's less about the sheer raw anger that seeped from her signature 'You Oughta Know.' She's grown up and willing to talk about relationships in a way that doesn't translate to listeners as 'men suck and then you die.'

Sheer energy and rawness propelled Morisette's first album 'Jagged Little Pill' into its spot as one of the most successful albums of the 1990s. It was open and honest, at times painfully so, and the then- 21-year-old musician seemed quite unaware of the Pandora's box she had opened. Her second album, 'Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie,' was more epic, a personal melancholy response to her first cd and the fame, fanaticism and criticism that followed it. 'Junkie's' tracks seemed to be even more introspective and shrouded in complex emotion than her past songs. Consequently, the album did well, but its success paled in comparison to 'Jagged Little Pill's.'

'Under Rug Swept' seems to combine the best of both previous albums. While some songs, such as '21 Things I Want in a Lover,' center around guitar heavy melodies, some songs rely more on softer grooves, such as 'You Owe Me Nothing in Return.'

'Flinch,' the album's most soothing track, features a vulnerable Alanis talking about the lingering affects of someone in her past.

And, on 'So Unsexy,' Alanis speaks of breaking free from people who harm her self-esteem.

'These little rejections/How they add up quickly/ One small sideways look and I feel so ungood,' she sings. Later, she laments, 'I can feel so boring for someone so interesting/So ignorant for someone of sound mind.'

Not every track is melodic bliss, however. 'Narcissus' has a sing-song chorus that features Morissette asking a man 'Why, why do I try to change you,' while the verses have her singing in a more deadpan way. The song sounds clunky and just doesn't work.

And on 'Utopia,' the closing track which features her attempts at a John Lennon 'Imagine'-style declaration of world peace, daffodils and cotton candy, Morissette doesn't quite hit what she's aiming at. She released the track to fans on the Internet after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and while the music is beautiful, her voice is just a little too high pitched to make the song work.

Overall, 'Under Rug Swept' should please hardcore Alanis fans, convert a few new ones and provide less fodder for her critics than her past albums did. It's no 'Jagged Little Pill,' but Alanis and most of her loyal listening base has grown up since then.