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'Jagged' No More

By The Los Angeles Times
Saturday, August 7, 2004

LOS ANGELES -- Nearly a decade ago, she blasted up the pop charts as a deceptively innocent-looking 21-year-old -- a caterwauling Canadian import who gave voice to the self-loathing and wounded egos common to so many young women. These days, Alanis Morissette recognizes victimization for what it is: a choice. These days, the singer juxtaposes both versions of herself, chronicling her emotional evolution from the scorned woman of "Jagged Little Pill" to the fearless female portrayed on her fourth and latest record.

With "So-Called Chaos," released in May, Morissette, 30, has continued to question and decipher the minefield of personal relationships -- she's just shifted her emphasis. Her famously pointed finger has turned back on itself, revealing her own failings in derailed romance.

In place of anger and blame, there is empathy and personal responsibility. Instead of bile, there is bravery as she explores life's dualities, boldly confronting uncomfortable and oftentimes contradictory emotions.

"I've let go of the struggle of feeling like I can't be depressed, like I can't experience loneliness," said Morissette, who no longer skewers men for their animal instincts but accepts them as "just a thing called guy." "Whatever I'm feeling, I'm ready to not only accept it but investigate it and care for it. That resistance is what's so hard," she said.

Morissette's musical turn toward compassion is, in many ways, a natural reflection of the maturity that comes with age. But it's also the result of years of soul-searching thanks to the sudden, worldwide fame and multimillion record sales she experienced on the heels of 1995's "Jagged Little Pill."

Commercial pressures have led some stars to crumble artistically and others to vanish, but they have only strengthened Morissette, who seemed more at ease than ever during a recent interview.

She even looks different. Gone are the long, curly locks, replaced with a lighter, spunkier chin-length 'do that seems to match her spirit. Comfortably curled up on a couch in a green T-shirt and jeans, she was quick to smile and laugh.

"Part of why I feel so peaceful and why I'm probably coming across as much happier is because I am," she grinned.

Her present tour is no exception.

"I have a sense of community now. It's almost like I can take my home life with me," said Morissette, who lives in Los Angeles. "I have a partner who enjoys traveling, a dog that's small enough to travel with me, and my friends come out. It's much easier."

Easier, but not pain-free. Morissette has been quite public about her struggles, not only with relationships, but with touring and the notion of fame -- a situation that has compelled her at times to retreat.

As she's done on earlier records, Morissette takes the lessons she's learned and polishes them into bite-size, psychotherapeutic sing-alongs on "So-Called Chaos." The songs, however, are less raw.

Her language is just as straightforward, but her words aren't as sexually explicit. Her famously strident vocals are just as powerful, but they're delivered with less rage. Some of her melodies are sticky, but they are more tepid than intense.

They appeal to an audience of older, wiser listeners who've learned the same life lesson: That venting is easier than introspection, if ultimately unproductive. Caught in the melodramatic swirl of fleeting, serial romance, younger fans may not relate. So be it, Morissette says.

"There are some people who listen to 'You Oughta Know' who still want to be listening to that sort of blaming, victim-consciousness thing," she said. "For me to continue writing songs based on something that isn't a personal experience just so that I can cater to those people isn't going to happen. But there are some people who didn't enjoy 'You Oughta Know' who wanted to strangle me during that period of time who now are connecting more with what I'm writing about, so I feel like I've lost a lot of people and I feel like I've gained people."

If you're looking for angst, stick with Avril Lavigne, the 19-year-old Canadian who's found success mining the same dark emotions, delivering them with the same pop polish as Morissette did a decade ago.

"Under My Skin," the follow-up to Lavigne's debut two years ago (which sold 6 million copies), has sold 1.1 million. By comparison, Morissette's latest has sold 347,000. Both records were released within a week of each other in May.

Clearly, youthful misery sells, though it may not have sold as well if Morissette hadn't opened the door with "Jagged Little Pill," a now-classic album that has sold 14.3 million copies.

"I do think she opened the door for the genre that's been called 'the angry young women,'" says David Browne, Entertainment Weekly magazine music editor.

Says Morissette: "I think that eventually these artists would have found their form and their voice, but I do feel like I'm part of the movement that made confessional music welcome in a commercial sense. I feel a huge part of that."

As for the relatively lukewarm sales of her latest record, she doesn't seem concerned. Ten years in the limelight has taught her to use fame to her advantage.

"I understand it more now. I'm using it. Before, I wasn't seeing how I could capitalize on it to serve my purpose," she said. "My whole life, I've always felt like nothing unless I was serving on some level, and so now I can just use fame as another form of service, putting myself out there so people can either find comfort in what I write about. Even if someone's repulsed by what I write, I'm still serving them by giving them something they can define themselves in accordance to."