Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Not As Harsh As I'd Originally Have Been, But Still So-Called Chaos Is Bad Enough.

The Good: Some lyrics, Moments of voice
The Bad: Return to Morissette shrieking, Instrumentals are hardly original, Short
The Basics: Alanis Morissette presents one of her lesser albums, So-Called Chaos that seems to want to recapture the crowd that loved her yelling, while being meaningful.

I am convinced, as I make it through her musical library, that there are two Alanis Morissettes. There is Alanis Morissette the commercial success who angrily screeched her way to fame with Jagged Little Pill by providing angry anthems for fifteen year-old girls. Then, there is the contemplative, melodic Morissette has something to say, but can't chart a single. I tend to like the latter. I'll take meaning, a great voice and creativity over angry, vacuous success any day. So, when I picked up So-Called Chaos, I had a little apprehension, not knowing which Alanis I'd be getting.

I got both. So-Called Chaos does not have any huge hits for Alanis Morissette and she gets angry again. And there's a sitar, so it's not like she just regressed to her Jagged Little Pill musical limitations, but she comes close. So-Called Chaos has enough anger to appease the young folks, but it's lacking in originality from Morissette and that's disappointing. On this album, it feels like she is attempting to find an equilibrium between the commercial tracks and her personal ones and ultimately, the sound just collapses such that she does neither especially well.

With only ten tracks, clocking out at 41:01, So-Called Chaos is definitely the work and vision of Alanis Morissette. Morissette wrote all ten songs, provides the lead vocals on each song and is credited as one of the album's co-producers. As well, she plays piano and keyboards on the various songs, so it's not like she's slouching in any department; this is her musical vision and it is an unfortunate mix of blase and unoriginal.

In fact, it is somewhat astonishing that So-Called Chaos did so well with fans of Morissette; they've heard most all of it before. Take, for example, "Eight Easy Steps," which opens the album. It sounds (not just because of the repetitive, numbering refrain) a lot like "21 Things I Want In A Lover" from one of Morissette's other albums. "Everything" has almost the same tune as Morissette's magnificent song "Still" and So-Called Chaos (the song) has the same sound as most of the tracks on Jagged Little Pill, adequately recasting Morissette's angry affectation. Even "Knees Of My Bees," which has the sitar, sounds more like something she already did on Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. The result is an album that feels uncomfortably familiar.

What then pulls it out of truly abysmal territory? Lyrics and the moments Morissette uses her actual voice. For the latter, "This Grudge" is her superlative work on this album. On that song, her voice is beautifully testing her upper ranges while expressing something thoughtful and heartfelt. The song is about letting go of hatred and anger and Morissette sings it with an earnest quality that is quite beautiful. It is also the exception to the rule on So-Called Chaos.

Like her earlier, more angry works, So-Called Chaos is dominated by songs where Morissette's vocals are more screechy than musical. "Eight Easy Steps" sounds like it is being sung by a cat who is fighting for its life and So-Called Chaos sounds like Morissette is being poked with something sharp while she is singing. Even the songs where Morissette does not appear vocally wrenched while performing tend to be less than her best works. For example, "Knees Of My Bees" has vocals that are so produced and carefully timed with the background vocals that it comes out sounding like a computer sang it!

But what Morissette is singing on So-Called Chaos is almost redeeming of the album. Take, for example, "Doth I Protest Too Much," Morissette actually seems to have a sense of humor, if a dark one. On that, she presents a story with a musical protagonist who is trying to convince herself she is not jealous and petty. This allows Morissette to sing "I'm not threatened, by every pair of legs you watch go by / I don't cringe when you stare at women, it's just a thing called guy / I don't notice your side ways glances or where your loyalty lies / I'm secure and out of me, it's hard to get a rise / I'm not jealous / I don't get moved by much / I'm not enraged /Not insecure as such / Not going insane / Rational stays in touch / Doth I protest too much" ("Doth I Protest Too Much") with a strong sense of conviction and irony. Much may be said about Morissette's writing, but even with the predictable rhyme scheme, Morissette has a beautiful sense of irony that she makes musical.

She also has a serious lyrical wit that comes through in the form of sheer cleverness as a writer. In this case, "Knees Of My Bees" illustrates perfectly a higher level of diction than the average pop-rock musical artist with her lines "We share a culture same vernacular / Love of physical humor and time spent alone / You with your penchant for spontaneous advents . . . With tendencies for conversations that raise bars / You are a sage who is fueled by compassion / Comes to nooks and crannies as balm for all scars / You make the knees of my bees weak, tremble and buckle" ("Knees Of My Bees"). Any musical artist who uses "penchant," "vernacular" and can find a way to turn a pair of common phrases in a clever new way is not all bad and this song easily launches Morissette into that category.

As well, even some of her noisy songs at least have something to say. So-Called Chaos (the song) actually has some reasonable demands when Morissette belts out "I want to be naked, running through the streets / I want to invite this so-called chaos, that you'd think I dare not be / I want to be weightless, flying through the air / I want to drop all these limitations at the shoes upon my feet" but she presents it in a way that is far less intriguing as the lyrics. But for the most part, what saves the album from utter failure is Morissette's writing from the terrible complicity of "Spineless" to the desire for freedom with "This Grudge."

Mostly, though, the sound of So-Called Chaos is boring, predictable pop-rock in the style that made Morissette famous. The songs are guitar or keyboard-driven rock songs with deep percussion and no real surprises to the listener. All of the songs that might have been catchy or interesting are that way because they are reminiscent of songs Alanis Morissette had success with in her past!

There are better pop-rock albums and better Morissette albums to spend one's money on than this lemon.

The best track is "Knees Of My Bees," the low point is "Eight Easy Steps," which still makes me cringe each time I put the album in the player.

For other Alanis Morissette works, check out my reviews of:
Jagged Little Pill
Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie
Under Rug Swept
Feast On Scraps


Check out how this album stacks up against others I have reviewed by visiting my Music Review Index Page for a listing of albums Best to Worst!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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