Alanis Morissette — Such Pretty Forks in the Road (7/31/20)
Alanis Morissette’s 1998 album Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (SFIJ) is one of the first albums I ever remember listening to as a kid. It was one of my mom’s favourites and because of that I hold quite a bit of nostalgic value in songs like “Front Row,” “Thank U,” and “That I Would Be Good.”
That was it for my experience with the Canadian artist though. I never did follow her over the years since and I definitely didn’t expect I’d be reviewing a new album of her’s in 2020.
She caught my attention last December though with the lead single “Reasons I Drink.” The song is so much edgier and troubled than I would have expected. She sings with this subtle aggression and bluntly displays her tendencies to drink or get high to get some reprieve from day-to-day life.
It’s a tremendous piano-driven pop song with a real bite to it, all thanks to Alanis’ commanding performance that hasn’t dwindled in the slightest since her early years. It’s a clean pop sound that doesn’t hold the exact same rawness as felt on SFIJ but she sounds stronger than ever behind the mic.
She pulled me in further with the following single “Smiling.” The song holds a more gentle performance from Alanis but is so heavy with emotion. It has such a classic feel to it as well as if it could fit right in with the songs on SFIJ.
She’s only 46-years-old but I just wasn’t expecting so much pain to be displayed from her at this point in her career. I think with songs like “Ironic,” “You Oughta Know,” and “Hand in My Pocket” still catching my ears on the radio today, it made these new singles all the more surprising.
Third single “Diagnosis” went all-in on the tough-but-important subject matter. The timid piano ballad has Alanis singing as someone with a mental illness and facing the challenges and the stigma that comes with it. Despite its crawling pace, it’s another heart-tugging song that balances the slow pace with a touching melody.
“Reckoning” was the final single ahead of the album’s release and it’s yet another sensitive song, this time speaking on the “reckoning” in store for sexual predators. Alanis sings with a gentle strength as if she’s looking down on these predators and condemning them to their fate.
It’s interesting that the singles all deal with such heavy subjects but I guess she felt it important to showcase those topics. It’s not all doom and gloom though. A few of my favourites are delivered with a much more heart-warming performance.
The sunny guitar-pop of “Ablaze” is a delightful tribute to her children, while “Missing the Miracle” builds on soft piano and aims to tear down the walls in a relationship. The latter is especially powerful and delivers what might just be my favourite moment on the album as the song falls into the final chorus with the line, “You see the figure skater, and I fear the ice is thin.”
“Sandbox Love” is undoubtedly one of the best songs of the album. Alanis sings in the stomping pre-chorus, “Here we go, into the danger zone/But this time with a friend.” That line is another one of my favourite moments on the album, and it moves into probably the biggest hook of the bunch.
Awkward as fuck
Precious as fuck
Scary as fuck
Us in our sandbox, sandbox love
Alanis clearly isn’t afraid to lay down the F-bomb, which is fun to hear on an adult contemporary pop album. To me, the song seems to be in regards to a lifelong friend you can always trust..but I could be way off.
We’re not done with the heavy subject matter though. The mid-album “Losing the Plot” is incredibly bleak. There’s strength and resolve in her performance, but she’s losing grasp of any remnants of hope. It seems to comment on not only the struggles she’s personally faced as an ageing artist and as a mother who has suffered from postpartum depression but on modern womanhood in general as well.
I’ll finish this review with a brief mention of the final three songs.
There’s an almost hymnal quality to “Her,” a delicate piano ballad that has Alanis praying to a female deity for mercy and patience. The following “Nemesis” is the longest of the album, coming close to 6-minutes. It’s a cutting and somewhat ominous performance from Alanis as she tackles fears of change in a gently thundering refrain.
The album ends with the tragically powerful “Pedestal.” The slow orchestral-backed song has Alanis stomping on any pre-conceived opinions some may have of her simply based on her name and the status that goes with it. It seems like she’s dismissing a social-climber who only used her for their own benefit.
And one day, you’ll see that you’ve never really loved me
One day, you’ll find out that everything you dreamed of wasn’t who stood before you
One day, I won’t be craved the way you’re craving now
As this pedestal crumbles still and crashes me to the ground
Alanis Morissette took us on a deep dive into her personal life and the struggles that come with it on these songs. It’s her first album since 2012 and a lot has changed in the world during that time. Alanis has done a fantastic job at connecting her experiences as a mother, wife, and as a woman in general, with the listener. The songs are real. There’s no sugarcoating with Alanis, and that’s just the way we like it.