Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Current Flavor Of Alanis Morissette Is Fractured On Flavors Of Entanglement

The Good: Some wonderful moments of music, lyrics and voice
The Bad: Some truly dumb dance-beat tracks, Short!
The Basics: A good album, Flavors Of Entanglement lyrically has the potential to be so much more, without the insipid dance beats on some of the tracks.

For those who have not read any of my many reviews of the works of Alanis Morissette (yes, it is a surprise to me that I have made it through virtually her entire library) I see Morissette as an artist with a split personality. There is the soulful, smart, emotionally aware rocker who writes ballads that can bring a tear to the listener's eyes and there is the angry, snide, guitar banging musician who seems to have gotten most of the success Morissette has enjoyed on the charts. The commercial Morissette is heavily produced, often angry or dancable, the genius Morissette is quieter, more natural and has an emotional maturity that the other Morissette seems to lack.

On Flavors Of Entanglement, Morissette presents the duality of herself with songs that are soulful and slow ("Not As We") and loud and angry and more like dance tracks ("Versions Of Violence"). The result is an album that does not seem to know what it wants to be and ultimately, what saves the disparate musical sounds on the album from plunging it into "not recommend" territory is the overall quality of all of the lyrics. Unlike some of her albums where she uses trite or overdone rhyme schemes, on Flavors Of Entanglement Morissette is more mature and a more adept poet throughout.

With eleven tracks clocking out at only 46:12, Flavors Of Entanglement does not illustrate all of the potential of Alanis Morissette. Instead, on this album she seems to underperform from her full creative ability by ceding a lot of creative control. All of the songs are co-written with Guy Sigsworth, though Morissette does take credit for the lyrics. Morissette provides all of the primary vocals on the tracks. Morissette, however, steps back entirely from the instrumentals and the production. In other words, how much of this album is actually Morissette's musical vision and desire for image is entirely up in the air.

With the lyrics being declared as entirely her own, the lyrics and vocals seem to be the only elements that are inarguably Morissette's. Unfortunately, some of the vocals are produced to the point that they are unrecognizable as any form of natural voice (as on "Versions Of Violence") and some of her best vocals, like when she stretches into the high notes for "Moratorium," also get mixed into the instrumentals in such a way that sounds and feels quite produced.

But largely, the lyrics on Flavors Of Entanglement are good and one of the album's inarguable strength. Morissette sings largely about relationships ("Torch," "Moratorium") but she also opens her repertoire up to socially conscious songs ("Citizen Of The Planet") and abuse ("Versions Of Violence"). There are a number of songs about breaking up ("Not As We," "Straightjacket") and even a travel dance number ("Giggling Again For No Reason"). Morissette makes a decent album in terms of thematic diversity, though the album is largely lacking in a hook, a song that makes it indispensable.

That said, several of the tracks are truly wonderful. Take, for example, her ode to moving on, "Torch." On that song, she sings a song about being forced to get closure on relationships, by contrasting what her musical protagonist had with what she wants thus "I miss your neck and your gait and your sharing what you write / Miss you walking through the front door, documentaries in your hand . . . These are the things that I miss / These are not times for the weak of heart / These are the days of raw despondence / I never dreamed I would have to lay down my torch for you like this" ("Torch"). Morissette has a pretty significant level of diction in her music that is certainly uncommon in musical artists these days.

Lyrically and musically, her dissonance works best on "Tapes." Another one of her breakup song, largely about fear and the difficulty of moving forward, she sings hauntingly "'I'm too exhausting to be loved' / 'A volatile chemical' / 'Best to quarantine and cut off' / All these tapes in my head swirl around / Keeping my vibe down / All these thoughts in my head aren't my own / Wreaking havoc" ("Tapes"). While Morissette might not have intended it, she created a song that is as true for basic natural fear as it is for creating a song from the perspective of a paranoid schizophrenic. The level of daring in that style of writing is welcome and the song is wonderful and terrible to listen to.

And for the artist who began her career with the song "You Oughta Know," it is refreshing to hear a song from Alanis Morissette like "In Praise Of The Vulnerable Man." On that song, Morissette writes and sings "You, with your eyes mix strength and abandon / You, with your new kind of heroism / And I bow and I bow down to you / To the grace that it takes to melt on through / This is in praise of the vulnerable man / Why don't you lead the rest of your cavalry home" ("In Praise Of The Vulnerable Men"). Even on "Jagged Little Pill," Morissette had "Head Over Feet," but this song fits this album and shows some growth given the resurgence of the angry guitars on some of the other tracks on this album.

And that's where the album has its difficulty. Opening with songs like "Citizen Of The Planet," which is a socially-conscious album crying out about how the world community has more merit than many of the individual nations, but is sounds angry with its throbbing guitars. And it is followed by a string of softer, pop-rock songs that mix synthesizers and electric guitars in a way that oscillates between pop and heavier rock. The result is an album that does not hold together well track to track, making for one that is hard to listen to over and over again.

Ultimately, it is likely that Morissette's fans will enjoy the album, but those of us who like the more contemplative Morissette will have to wait until she gets around to a "Flavors Of Entanglement Acoustic" to get the best of her from this work. And just to make clear: this would definitely be an album that has enough potential to revisit if it sounded different and was more consistent, stressing the best of Morissette instead of someone else's commercial vision of her.

The best track is "Torch," the low point is "Giggling Again For No Reason."

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


For other music reviews, visit my Music Review Index Page!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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