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Alanis Morissette - Swept Up
This article was taken from Chart Magazine #134
Alanis Morissette doesn't write lyrics so much as lists. She enumerates and ruminates, catalogues and contemplates. It's as though she can't make up her mind, can't limit herself to one observation per thought. Can't stop. So she puts them all out there, all the permutations and possibilities swirling around in the moment - like she herself does on stage.
It makes you wonder, just what does her grocery list look like?
"I've never written a grocery list!" she laughs, surprising both of us. "I write lists because I get really depressed when I forget what I'm doing or why I'm doing it, in the big sense of purpose. The more clarity I have, the less depressed I am. That's the main spiritual reason. The next reason is that my mind is so full of stuff I go crazy. "I believe that our thoughts manifest themselves," she continues, "so if I can't imagine something or picture it, it will never be created."
In that case, Alanis must have a notepad somewhere that reads something like this: °I will not wait until I know everything to greet the world. I will be a teen pop star, a minor TV celebrity, a hit and a has-been. I'll be back with a vengeance, the Next Big Thing, the new Miss Thing. I will be a career artist, a compassionate woman. And if I sell over 40 million records and win seven Grammy Awards, so be it."
The truth is out there
Under Rug Swept is the third full-length studio album from Alanis Morissette, the grown-up. It was self-produced (i.e. without sven gall Glenn Ballard) for supposed release last year, but was delayed for months while The Artist and The Label held "discussions" about their relationship. If Maverick Records was a boy, the album would probably contain a biting account of their most uncomfortable confrontations, followed by a ballad of peaceful resignation about her lessons learned.
Three months before the disc's release, Under Rug Swept is being carefully guarded. In order to hear it, journalists scheduled to speak with Alanis are invited to the record company H.Q. and left alone with a single play copy. The boardroom environment is comfortable enough; the speakers of decent quality to truly examine the work. An employee inadvertently enters the listening session, apologizes, makes a pitch.
"It's great isn't it?" he says. "I think it's what she needed to do, return to pop music."
Under Rug Swept is not a pop record, at least not of the "Too Hot" variety the singer used to- make. Yet compared with Morissette's last recording, 1998's Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, it's more straightforward, closer to her mega-selling Jagged Little Pill. No songs about Baba and the pitfalls of fame. Nothing too "experimental" far these shaky economic times. As though Supposed was a wild, inaccessible failure. As though Alanis had any preconceived plans to tone down.
"My only intention was to get back to my truth," she explains. "I was at the middle of the beginning of the end of a relationship. I knew that going into the studio and writing songs would propel me to face some of the truths that were scaring me. Inevitably, we ended up breaking up, so the record kind of followed the grieving of it, then the proverbial phoenix rising and continuing to grow."
Alanis says this with calmness and amusement. Sitting in a photographer's studio - where she has just obliged Chart by flipping her long locks for the camera - she is exactly as she appears on TV and in magazines. Earthy glamourous. In a few days, she is scheduled to receive the Global Tolerance Award from The Friends of United Nations for her "outstanding contributions to promote tolerance through the arts." Recently, she has performed for the Pope at the Concert For A Debt-Free world and spoken out against Dubya's Drill The Arctic Refuge Plans. In the fall of 2001 alone, she participated in Music Without Borders, the John Lennon charity tribute and Seattle's Groundworks benefit, all while preparing for Under Rug Swept's release. Is she trying to stockpile all the karma? Making those of us with more excuses than goodwill feel like schmucks?
"I just go with my gut," she explains. "I'll read something and it pulls me in. My contributions come in various forms. Sometimes I'll just send a painting or sign a guitar. That doesn't take much. I feel like I've only really been able to dedicate myself to things because of the fact that I've been seemingly so obsessed and introspective for so long. I think it's a natural outcome. Having healed, the next step is to want to give back."
All too political
If that sounds like Alanis the Hippie Chick talking, it is. Morissette plays a good goddess, from her exceptionally long, naturally-coloured hair down to oft bare feet. It suits her contemplative, flighty persona and global perspective. But the singer who was introduced to America wearing black leather pants in the video for "You Oughta Know" is also a rocker and a glamour girl. ("It's like different kinds of paint I put on," she says.)
In her music, it's a wide palette she paints with. Hurting Alanis. Brave Alanis. Insecure Alanis. Romantic Alanis. Under Rug Swept follows the themes set on her previous albums. There are the driving, aggressive You Suck songs ("Dear momma's boy, I know you've had your butt licked by your mother" she spits in "Narcissus"). Plus some Self-Doubt ("Unsexy"), a bit of Girl Power ("21 Things I Want In A Lover") and fragile, loving ballads ("You Owe Me Nothing"). As with all her work, the best tracks run on hindsight, on pinpointing the precise moments in a relationship that turn lovers into strangers, good intentions into disaster. For those times when you run into that person who broke your heart and you're stuck for words, Alanis is there with a line like "How long can a girl be tortured by you?" But does she ever say that stuff to their face?
"I'm starting to!" she says. "My songs are far more forthright, forthcoming, courageous and authentic than I have yet been in my personal life. But it's a great beacon for me to look to for inspiration. Slowly and surely, I'm being more communicative in my own relationships, so the two sides are almost meeting."
With the exception of the closing track, "Utopia," Under Rug Swept deals exclusively with issues of a personal nature. For Alanis, being political in life doesn't necessarily require writing protest songs or making social commentary in her work. Nevertheless, she sees a direct connection between cat fights and actual warfare.
"I believe the personal is political, is the universal," she says. "If a conflict cannot be resolved between two people, how can it possibly be resolved between two cultures or two nations? What underlies all political unrest is a spiritual void."
Alanis fans know she recently penned a few political tunes, which she performed through 2001. In the end, songs like "Awakening Americans" and "Sister Blister" were not chosen for Under Rug Swept, which prompted an online petition to save the songs from obscurity. Alanis has decided to release them instead as a separate EP, but remains wary of such material in general. "When I edge too much towards the political, when it's removed too much from my personal experience, I don't resonate with it as much," she explains. "It's in the head, philosophical. I love sitting up at two in the morning talking religion, but when it comes to my songs, it's just rambling, soapbox, obnoxious. I wrote a song called 'Symptoms,' which is very political. Some people I work with think it's a great song, but I can't imagine getting on stage and singing it.
"I also wrote 'Awakening Americans,' which basically busts our chops quite a bit. But at the end it says we're evolving, our consciousness is waking up slowly. My fantasy is that our consciousness level would just fucking quantum leap, take a huge jump. But we've got such a ways to go, we're so primitive in some ways."
The new reality
Listening to the 27-year-old get excited about the idea of harmonic convergence, dreaming of a new level of human consciousness, you forget that she used to bounce around in lace gloves singing silly Top 40 pop. Although those early albums are no longer in circulation and her adult achievements have far surpassed her early years, MuchMusic airs the videos often enough to remind you that Alanis Morissette was once Canada's Debbie Gibson, an '80s Britney Spears. I ask her opinion on the current crop of teen pop tarts, if she feels bad to see them so criticized.
"I can respect what it's like to be 17 with so much ageism and patriarchy to deal with," she offers. "Ageism was a big issue for me, so when I see an 18- year-old coming into her own, I don't believe she's being puppetted. I look at them and they seem to be very clear about what they are doing. I get the sense that they are very much in control and loving it. So I say, right on!" Control almost cost Alanis her new album. During the recording period, the singer found herself re-examining her contract with Maverick. Having testified at U.S. Government hearings on unfair record contract practices, she had some new ideas about her role as an artist in the digital age.
"The new music business model that's being created online shone a light onto the dynamics between record companies and artists in a way that had never been done before," she explains. "I had all this new information and I just wanted to have a dialogue with people. But going through lawyers and taking six months to have one little thing figured out was just ridiculous to me. "Normally, I would look to my producer to be the buffer to the outside world while I'm recording, but it was challenging for me to handle it alone. I was trying to be isolated enough to tap into my artistry while keeping people at bay who don't know fuck all about nurturance. It got to the point where it was too much and I started taking negotiations into my own hands. It became obvious I couldn't do both, so I just put the record aside for a minute to deal with it. I had to be willing to throw the record away and not ever release it." Things were eventually resolved and Alanis set about completing UnderRug Swept. For an artist well known as an official spokesperson for Angry Young Women everywhere, Morissette doesn't rage about the situation. Or anything else, it seems. With a new album, a new live band and a new boyfriend (the subject of "Surrendering") there's no room for negativity on the list. She's got a universe to explore.
"I am fascinated by the world," she says, "mesmerized by it, perplexed by it. It's a yummy thing to dive into, to live this short lifetime as awake as I can."
End of article.