Like most people, Alanis Morissette hasn't had the 2020 she envisaged. Not only was the Canadian star due to take her 25th anniversary tour of her breakthrough third album, Jagged Little Pill, around the world, but the release of this new album – her first since 2012's Havoc and Bright Lights – was postponed, all just months after the Jagged Little Pill musical made its debut on Broadway. Still, Morissette certainly has plenty to say on her ninth studio album.
In her 20s she became known for railing against the world with an indignant angst on bristling songs such as You Oughta Know and All I Really Want. These days, as a 46-year-old mother of three, her anger is both more righteous and more refined – as heard on Reckoning, a song that addresses having money embezzled by her business manager and runs the gamut of emotions, from vulnerability (“You got away, while they claim I’m a liar”) to vindication (“I hope you enjoy these drawings in your jail”).
In general these are Morissette’s most honest songs to date, delivered with a confessional tone that seeps into uncomfortable territory at times. Reasons I Drink tackles addiction with a disarming candour, exploring the issue without offering a tidy resolution as she sets it against a perky piano-pop soundtrack. Ablaze is an emotional open letter to her children, laying her warts-and-all love on the table in a deeply affecting way. Diagnosis references her battle with postnatal depression, and Pedestal addresses the self-doubt that plagues her marriage.
Despite the cathartic lyrical tone, not every song is similarly sombre. Levity comes in the form of her talent for melody (as heard on the punchy Reasons I Drink, the soft-pop rollick of Sandbox Love and the brilliant key change on the orchestral Pedestal). Largely, however, these are considered midtempo ballads predominantly based around piano, and often accompanied by sweeping strings.
Perhaps galvanised by the truth-telling nature of these songs, Morissette’s one-of-a-kind voice has never sounded better; capable of raw tendernesss on the likes of Diagnosis, and gutsy blasts of voice-cracking emotion throughout. In some cases, as heard on the haunting Nemesis, she incorporates both in the space of six minutes.
Long-term fans might well consider this Morissette’s opus, and it’s hard to argue otherwise – this is a frank, sometimes beautiful, often painful exorcising of demons that doesn’t shy away from the tough stuff. More casual listeners may find the songs slightly one-note in terms of the musical dynamics but, either way, it’s good to have her back.