Monday, September 3, 2012

Much Better Than The Original, Jagged Little Pill Acoustic Doesn't Solve All Of The Original Album's Problems!

The Good: Generally good instrumental sound, Some truly wonderful vocals, Occasional lyrics
The Bad: Some lyrics, Some vocals
The Basics: Surprisingly good, Alanis Morissette trades the angst of her original breakout album for a mellow rework that works much better for adults!

Quite some time back, I took a risk, stood against popular opinion and panned the smash hit album Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette and amid numerous comments that tried to convince me my opinion was wrong because of the commercial success of the album, one person piped up to inform me of Jagged Little Pill Acoustic. After complaining about the harsh sound of many of the tracks on Jagged Little Pill that were not mirrored on the best of her subsequent albums and decrying the vocals that were often strained and shriek-like, I was turned on to the idea that there was a vastly superior version of Morissette's breakthrough work to be listened to and that album was Jagged Little Pill Acoustic.

Jagged Little Pill Acoustic is a collection of the same twelve songs that Alanis Morissette presented on Jagged Little Pill, but stripped down and reinterpreted. Gone is the vehemence, the electric, the production elements. What is left is a stark series of songs that are essentially an artist covering herself, in the best way possible. After all, the best possible cover songs not only repeat what another artist does, but they reinterpret the songs, adding a different perspective or nuance. Jagged Little Pill Acoustic is instantly more listenable, enduring and polished than the original, giving the listener (mostly) the benefit of ten years of Alanis Morissette growing out of her anger and desire to shout her lyrics. The result is a completely new album, one that makes Morissette appear more mature, mellow and intellectual as opposed to . . . well, young and loud.

With thirteen songs (there is a hidden track after several seconds of silence on the last song) clocking out at 58:39, Jagged Little Pill Acoustic is mostly the musical vision of Alanis Morissette. Morissette wrote all of the lyrics and co-wrote the music with Glen Ballard, who produced the album. While Morissette does not receive a production credit on this album, it seems unrealistic to suggest that the album does not have the sound she was looking for; after all, why would she bother to re-record the album if it was not producing the sound she wanted this time around? As well, Morissette provides all of the vocals and plays the harmonica on the few tracks that have it. Given that the vocals are treated almost like a musical instrument on this album, this gives Morissette most of the creative control over the album and it is distinctly her vision.

And I am pleased to say, this is a good one. However, it is not flawless and it is worth noting that right up front. The album still has some issues with lyrics as Morissette used the same lines she used the first time around. This means that some of my issues with rhyme schemes on some of the songs still hold (and I remain unimpressed by the way Morissette shook up the rhymes in "Hand In Pocket"). Moreover, Morissette's vocals are not all flawless and indicative of her developed, non-nasal, non-shrieking sound that she used on her follow up albums which were superior to the vocals on Jagged Little Pill. That said, in their acoustic versions, the more mellow sound of Alanis Morissette allows the singer-songwriter to emphasize the lyrics and the reinterpretation of some of the songs truly aids in accepting Jagged Little Pill Acoustic as a brand new album.

So, for example, Morissette wrote and sand a storysong that is much more reminiscent of a folk-rock singer's with her track "Forgiven." She muses on growing up as a Catholic and recalls "I sang Alleluia in the choir / I confessed my darkest deeds to an envious man / My brothers they never went blind for what they did / But I may as well have / In the name of the Father, the Skeptic and the Son / I had one more stupid question" ("Forgiven"). Such articulation, especially with a large portion of the song existing in a nihilistic ethical limbo is uncommon in pop and rock and roll and Morissette makes it articulate and clever in this song.

Similarly, she sings about overachieving on "Perfect," and while this song suffers from a painfully obvious rhyme scheme (rhyming "up" with itself and rhymes like "harder"/"prouder", etc.) it tackles a thought uncommon in this musical genre. Morissette might well be the only musical artist to ever grapple with the pressures that come from parental goadings like "Sometimes is never quite enough / If you're flawless, then you'll win my love / Don't forget to win first place / Don't forget to keep that smile on your face / Be a good boy / Try a little harder / You've got to measure up / Make me prouder" ("Perfect"). In other words, Morissette is grappling with more complex issues on the non-radio singles than most pop-rock artists ever bother with exploring and on Jagged Little Pill Acoustic, the emotional intelligence of those musings is maturely presented.

There is some irony (not so much from "Ironic," which is reinterpreted on the album in a way that makes it rather close to the original) to the whole idea of Morissette as a modern folk-rock artist as opposed to the angry rocker she initially presented herself as. But the shoe might well fit, between her emotive diatribes ("You Oughta Know," "Head Over Feet") and the story-songs ("Mary Jane," "Right Through You"). And while "Right Through You" - Morissette's angry diatribe to those who disregarded her in her youth - did not impress me more in this new, more sweetly sung, incarnation, "Not The Doctor" did.

"Not The Doctor" is a musical story-song about a relationship involving co-dependence and addition and instead of being angry and defiant (the push of such a relationship), this new version has a sad longing to it (the pull of such a situation). The listener feels for the musical protagonist when Morissette sings "Visiting hours are 9 to 5 and if I show up at 10 past six / Well I already know that you'd find some way to sneak me in and oh / Mind the empty bottle with the holes along the bottom / You see it's too much to ask for and I am not the doctor" ("Not The Doctor"). This has become one of my favorite songs to actually stack next to the original just to hear the different relationship dynamics the sounds imply.

Instrumentally, the songs are all acoustic, as the title of the album suggests. As a result, Morissette is accompanied by guitars, bass and keyboards and the result is a more stark, light rock or folk sound. The songs have a musing sound to them that creates an album that is held together almost entirely with a sound bordering on regret, as opposed to the malice that ran through the electric chords of the original.

This also accents Morissette's voice as a musical instrument. Morissette comes through. "You Oughta Know" is melodic and sad, more sensual than irksome. Yes, it is a pleasure to listen to this version, as is the more mellow reinterpretation of "You Learn." Gone are the elements in those songs that sounded like Morissette was being tormented while singing.

Unfortunately, not all of the songs fix the vocals flawlessly. Elements of "Right Through You" and "All I Really Want" still have a nasal or shrieking quality to them. But, the changes are significant enough and those negative elements are sufficiently minimized to not ruin the album when they do pop up.

The result is the album that launched the commercial Morissette is effectively recreated to present a more true vision of the musical artist. And yes, there is artistry on this one. For those who thought they knew Morissette from the radio - especially the ones who loathed her early works - this one is worth picking up!

I still like "Hand In Pocket" (which is still sweet and soft in this version) and I'd say "All I Really Want" is probably the weak track of this album.

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
Flavors Of Entanglement


For other music reviews, be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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

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