Turn Back The Clock
Jagged Little Pill
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Ever notice that certain songs stay with you, no matter how long ago they were first introduced on the radio? The other day, I turned on my car radio and let out a joyful shout to hear one such song. I sang loudly along with the angry Canadian who came on the scene in 1995 with a hard-hitting album that raised some eyebrows. But once it had been out for a week or two, it was plain to see that everyone in America was quite prepared to swallow Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill.
Whenever I bring up this album to friends and co-workers, I find that they all agree – Jagged Little Pill is Alanis Morisette’s best work. There have been other songs that have had impact by themselves, such as Uninvited and Under Rug Swept, but the album Jagged Little Pill was a collection of hard-hitting, raw, emotion-filled songs. Each one had special meaning and each one seemed to be ripped from our own psyche.
The album starts off with All I Really Want which is about the singer’s frustrations with those who judge and with the apathetic attitude of the people surrounding her. In this song, Alanis tells us that she is looking for someone to “catch this drift”, someone who isn’t a part of the rat race and can slow down and enjoy the solitary and spiritual moments of life. The song’s lyrics are intelligent and well-thought out. Alanis Morissette’s voice is slightly off-key and funky, but for this song, it works perfectly. There’s a pause in the song where Alanis asks the listener if they can handle a moment of silence: “Why are you so petrified of silence/ Here can you handle this?/.....[silence]…Did you think about your bills, your ex, your deadlines / Or when you think your gonna die / Or did you long for the next distraction.” This perfectly illustrates the new generation’s A.D.D. – no one can sit still and just enjoy a quiet moment.
We follow up the first track of the album with what has become every jilted woman’s anthem, You Oughta Know. In this song, an angry Alanis is screaming out at the man that has dumped her for another woman. She begins by saying she’s happy for him and then proceeds to tear him and his new girlfriend apart, lashing out with her pain. So many women related to this song that it quickly rose to the top of the charts with everyone loudly screaming: “’Cause the joke that you laid in the bed that was me / And I’m not gonna fade / As soon as you close your eyes and you know it / And every time I scratch my nails down someone else’s back / I hope you feel it…well can you feel it.”
The third track, Perfect, is a haunting tale of how some parents can be so over-demanding of their children. It’s a shame that radio stations failed to play this song. Some parents could truly learn something by listening to how they sound when they talk to their kids: “If you’re the best, then maybe so am I / Compared to him compared to her / I’m doing this for your own damn good / You’ll make up for what I blew…”
On the heels of Perfect comes Hand In My Pocket, another well-played radio hit. Here, Alanis shows how much of life is a contradiction. This is not exactly my favorite track, but if you listen to it enough times, you’ll get the meaning and the lyrics can sometimes be fun to play with.
Right Through You is another song that never got adequate radio play. This song is another angry poke at someone in Alanis’ past, someone who never took her seriously. Alanis Morisette’s vocals on this one are perfect for this track and the music is rock – harsh guitar wailing and slamming drums – perfectly illustrating the anger felt behind the words.
Forgiven…what do I think about this track? It’s one of my favorites actually, but it never received airplay. Could it be that it was a bit critical of the Catholic Church? Most artists who dare to criticize the church do it cryptically, using words with double meanings that one could associate with the church. However, in a bold step, Alanis comes right out and says that this song has to do with the Catholic Church and beliefs of those raised Catholic in the very first line of the very first verse. From then on, things get cryptic, but most of us can figure out what is meant by the lyrics: “I sang Alleluia in the choir / I confessed my darkest deeds to an envious man / My brothers never went blind for what they did…” This song dares to be bold and address the thoughts and feelings of someone who has become disillusioned with the religious beliefs of her childhood. “We all had to believe in something / So we did.”
You Learn is the seventh track of Jagged Little Pill. This song received quite a bit of airplay and it is the only track that ever mentions the title of the album: “Swallow it down (what a jagged little pill).” In this song Alanis is trying to tell the listeners that life is a learning experience, so live it…experience all it has to offer: “I recommend biting off more than you can chew / I certainly do / I recommend sticking your foot in your mouth at any time / Feel free / Throw it down (the caution blocks you from the wind…” Such a meaningful song with lyrics that are simple and easy to comprehend.
There is one love song on the album, Head Over Feet. This also became a hit for Alanis. Throughout the song, we hear how the singer has found someone who treats her so well that she feels like a princess. She tells us that she has never felt this way before…never had anyone treat her so well and shower her with so much affection. She also relates how this all makes her feel and how much she loves this person as well. A pretty song, but I think we all know that the Alanis we love most is the angry Alanis.
Mary Jane, the ninth track, is a haunting song about a young girl who is suffering from depression. I love the analogies made in this song: “It’s a long way down / On this roller coaster / The last chance streetcar / Went off the track / And your on it.” The roller coaster is life, an analogy that I often use. Mary Jane is struggling through life and she’s finding it hard to keep “on track”. Alanis’ message to Mary Jane is that she still has someone on her side, that she is loved for who she is, that she shouldn’t give up on life, but live it for herself and not worry what others expect of her.
Ironic is yet another hit song found on this album. Throughout the song, Alanis Morissette relates the irony of life. Though I like the message, for some reason, this song never really grew on me and I often found myself changing the station whenever it was on the radio. But I do like the ending statement: “Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you / Life has a funny, funny way of helping you out.”
The next track is yet another angry Alanis song and so, of course, one of my favorites. Not the Doctor seems to be another message to an ex. The lyrics speak for themselves: “I don’t want to be the glue that holds your pieces together / I don’t want to be your idol / See this pedestal is high and I’m afraid of heights / I don’t want to be lived through / A vicarious occasion / Please open the window.”
Wake Up is Alanis Morissette’s cry to the apathetic in the world. In the song, you can see that she understands why apathy exists – people don’t act “’cause it’s easy not to / so much easier not to.” However, Alanis feels that this is no excuse and her message to these people is to “get up…get up off of it…” – I can only assume this means: get up off of your proverbial ass and do something already! A good song, with a good message, but often overlooked.
My version of Jagged Little Pill came with an extra track. The thirteenth track is an alternate version of You Ought to Know, a funkier version with a little more bass that is just as enjoyable as the more recognizable radio-played version. This version is probably closer to the live version that radio stations have been playing in recent years.
Hidden after this thirteenth track is yet another bonus, one that I almost missed when listening to my CD the first time. I had just heard the last bars of You Ought to Know and knew the CD had finished, but I was cleaning my apartment at the time and nowhere near the stereo. I just assumed that the CD was over and I would have to wait a few minutes until I was done with what I was doing to replay it. Then, up pops this acapella and haunting song about a woman who shows up at her lover’s apartment while he isn’t home. She revels in the pleasures of entering his room, taking in his scent, using his shower, wearing his robe, laying in his bed. Then, she notices a letter on his desk written by another woman: “It said ‘Hello love, I love you so love, meet me at midnight’ / And no it wasn’t my writing… So forgive me love / If I cry in your shower / So forgive me love / For the salt in your bed / So forgive me love / If I cry all afternoon.” The lack of music and the echo in the background serve to emphasize the pain felt by the woman, make it feel more poignant and real. Your House, a hidden bonus track, is my favorite song of the entire CD.
There is not one song on this album that I can honestly say that I dislike. Every song found on Jagged Little Pill contains lyrics fraught with meaning. Alanis Morissette attacked each track with such raw emotion that people immediately took notice. It wasn’t that Morissette was a newcomer to the scene. It was that she had finally found a genre that she fit in with. She had finally decided to let people see her true self, however raw that might be. And it worked. We were in awe…and still are. And although I am not as happy with the newer, more spiritually enlightened Alanis Morissette music, I can respect her work for being heartfelt. Jagged Little Pill will continue to be one of my favorite albums and I will continue to play its tracks until the CD is worn through and unplayable. Then, I’ll just hit Amazon and buy yet another copy.