Acoustic version reveals vulnerability behind rage
After a decade, the artist still feels attached to the songs.
By RICHARD CROMELIN
LOS ANGELES TIMES
It was 10 years ago Monday that Alanis Morissette's album "Jagged Little Pill" was released, and she figures you oughta know.
Usually that would mean nothing more than a special-edition anniversary reissue, and that's what she was planning until some friends pointed something out.
"They jokingly said, 'We think that anyone who really wanted a copy of that record probably already has one,'" the singer said on a recent morning, laughing at the obviousness of it: At more than 14 million, "Jagged Little Pill" ranks as the second-biggest seller since SoundScan started counting U.S. sales in 1991, and estimates of worldwide sales hover around 30 million.
Available in shops
So instead of a superfluous "Jagged Little Pill" reissue, we get a new take: "Jagged Little Pill Acoustic," a non-electric version of the landmark album that Morissette and her band recorded in February and March. It came out Monday, with its initial release only at Starbucks. It will be available at retail outlets July 26.
So is there more to the new version than lower volume? Morissette thinks so.
"Songs that were more reactionary or rageful, like 'You Oughta Know,' when they're broken down, the vulnerability emerges," she said. "And in a song like 'Hand in My Pocket,' with the chord changes that are a little different and the new approach, that song sounds a little more reflective and melancholy," she says. "So different layers of emotionality come out when it's acoustic."
All this analysis and activity -- Morissette is also doing an acoustic concert tour spotlighting the album -- might seem like overkill for a normal album. But "Pill" is one of those watershed releases that mark a cultural transition.
Morissette, a native of Ottawa who had achieved success as a recording artist in Canada, was just 19 when she made the record after moving to Los Angeles. She arrived with a lot of emotional baggage, and she poured it all into "Pill's" scathing, purging expressions of defiance, fear, depression and liberation.
No holds barred
With its blunt language and aggressive but catchy framing, it had a jolting impact on the pop landscape, winning four Grammys (including album of the year) and bringing to the mainstream some of the emotional candor of cult heroes such as PJ Harvey and Sinead O'Connor.
"It was a powerful cultural addition," says Glen Ballard, who co-wrote the songs and produced both the 1995 and 2005 versions. "A young, empowered woman speaking her mind with such clarity and so unapologetically. I would like to see more of that right now."
Sitting in a sunny conference room at the luxury apartment building in Santa Monica, Calif., Morissette was happy to reminisce about the album, whose impact came as a surprise to her.
"When all these people related to it in the way they wound up doing," she says, "I remember feeling comforted and horrified -- 'Wow, I'm not the only depressed person on the planet."'
"I like to think that what may have shocked 10 years ago won't shock 10 years later, and whatever may be surprising today won't be so surprising in 10 years. I just am a huge advocate for evolution."
Film to follow
Morissette has also created an hourlong documentary about "Jagged Little Pill." For someone who describes herself as inclined to "breeze through [life's] passages," she certainly seems attached to this work.
"I love the fact that she's celebrating it," says Ballard, "and sort of honoring it in a way that's unique and un-self conscious -- 'I like that record we did, and people liked it a lot too, so let's celebrate it and really do it right.'
"She said something to me like, 'I'm gonna be singing these songs until I die, because I love them.' And when I heard her sing them on this record I felt like she had not used up all her juice on them at all," Ballard says.