Here’s another album for the “This is already so popular” list of albums, Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. Per Wikipedia, it’s the 13th biggest-selling album, ever, and the 3rd biggest put out by a woman. There is a good chance that you’ve at least heard a song from this album, somewhere. It’s an album that really sort of embodied a lot of the 90s feel at the time. It’s an album that I listened to a lot in High School and beyond, and it’s a strong strong contender for “Most listened to album”. I like to track music as much as possible these days with Last.fm, but there are a lot of gaps in that record, from the before times, and this is one of them. Others include Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Greatest Hits, and probably a few Aerosmith albums.
Why cover this album now? Because in a few days, I’m going to see Alanis in concert at the Illinois State Fair. I don’t really have a “bucket list”, but if I did, going to an Alanis Morissette concert is one of them, even if it’s 25 years late. I have not really picked up on a lot of Alanis’ later music, though I want to. Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie is the only other album I have really listened to by her and it’s ok, but not quite as good as Jagged Little Pill. Something I wasn’t aware of until recently after watching the documentary Jagged, is that Alanis actually had a few albums before Jagged Little Pill that were essentially just regular boring pop music.
Which was part of what made this album blow up and become a huge hit. There was plenty of angry rock alternative music by dudes out there, but not a lot by women at the time. The whole album is this crazy ball of angry rage for a lot of its tracks. The first single from the album You Oughta Know has long been rumored to be about her former boyfriend Dave Coulier (Joey from Full House, the goofy guy) but it’s never been confirmed. With such lovely lyrics as
Cause the joke that you laid in the bed that was me– You Oughta Know – Alanis Morissette
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 lyrics in general are part of what really makes the album appealing. It’s all so poetically blunt at times, full of anger and trauma. It also becomes self-reflective and vulnerable in other places. It starts out very in your face with All I Really Want, You Oughta Know, and Right Through You. Even the slightly more subdued of the early tracks Perfect has a built to how it’s all just too much trying to be perfect. As the album goes on it becomes a lot more subdued, but still tells a string of stories about broken history and broken relationships.
Probably the most well-known track on the album is Ironic, which is an extremely popular and enjoyable song, but it’s also the subject of ridicule and jokes as most of the scenarios in the song are more straight tragic than actually ironic. Rain on your wedding day, ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife, that sort of thing. The real Irony I suppose is a song called Ironic without any irony in it. I doubt it runs that deep though.
Probably my favorite tracks on the album are Hand in My Pocket and Mary Jane. I really like the whole building optimism of the former, and how it almost feels like it travels through stages of a life with it’s slightly evolving Chorus lyrics. Mary Jane is a nice slow ballad where Alanis really throws out those vocals.
This is also the other reason this album became so popular I think. It’s not just the lyrics, but the way they are delivered. No one thinks twice about scream-singing with male bands, but Alanis helped bring this concept to her music. She has a very distinctive almost yodeling screech at times in her voice which feels like it should be off-putting but instead, it just drives the whole energy of the album. It pushes the rage when needed. It pushes the 90s alternative “who gives a shit really?” vibe when needed. There is also a lot fo interesting almost folksy feeling to her tracks
There’s probably a reason Alanis Morissette never really ended up with a ton of staying power on her future works, because Jagged Little Pill just really embodied the times, and left an influential legacy on music, but released any other time, probably wouldn’t have even taken off at all. I definitely am not saying it’s a bad album, I am just saying that it probably just doesn’t resonate with people who weren’t there, so to speak.