A Decade Later: Alanis Morissette

Epiphany and Thirty Tigers [Fair Use]

“Such Pretty Forks in the Road” is Alanis Morissette’s first album after an eight year hiatus.

Lily Langstaff, Staff Writer

The woman Rolling Stones named “Queen of Alt-Rock Angst” has released a  fresh album – the first in almost a decade. Alanis Morissette is the musical icon our generation doesn’t seem to know much about. If you aren’t familiar with Alanis, she is a major post-grunge artist. From dance-pop to rock ballads, there is a lot to take from her discography and her career. A great way to introduce herself to you, if you’ve never listened before, is her new album, “Such Pretty Forks in the Road.” 

Throughout her entire career, Alanis fought against sexism in the music industry. She was the Taylor Swift of the 90’s – in the way that she was ridiculed and criticized for her break-up albums and angry femininity. Even as a teen sensation, a child, she dealt with misogynist expectations and stereotyping from her record label and critics. She became a figure of female empowerment and feminism, but she’s no social justice warrior. Her Time article “Feminism Needs a Revolution” gracefully explains why feminism should not be radical, but rather inclusive of masculine empowerment as well.

Despite a heavy load of negativity from condescending critics, Alanis continued writing and creating music with poetic lyrics that clearly demonstrate her struggles as a female artist. She used her music as a way to expose and strip down every moment of intolerant, dismissive, and exploitative sexism she faced. And through all of this, she remained non-complacent, angry and unapologetic in a very admirable way. Alanis herself said it better than anyone could: “We’re taught to be ashamed of confusion, anger, fear, and sadness, and to me they’re of equal value to happiness, excitement, and inspiration.” Raw truth. 

In fact, Alanis has always been raw and truthful, from her 1991 debut album “Alanis” to “Such Pretty Forks in the Road,” released on July 31.

“Such Pretty Forks in the Road” is a lyrical masterpiece. The 11-track album is full of powerful ballads and interesting melodies. The sound of the album seems to have shifted from the angry, harsh rock of her earlier music to a more wounded, mournful sound. It explores motherhood, addiction and other melancholic films. Her mezzo-soprano voice is easily recognizable from her loud, raging music, but in this album, we hear a haunting, saddened side of it. 

The opening song, “Smiling,” sounds somber but also oddly hopeful. It was originally written for Broadway’s “Jagged Little Pill: the Musical.” In this song, Alanis reflects on the highs and lows of her life – more the lows than the highs, though. She sings, “This is my first wave of the white flag / This is the sound of me hitting bottom / This my surrender, if that’s what you call it / In the anatomy of my crash.” It’s about being completely overwhelmed with an internal fall-apart, losing everything important to you, and still presenting yourself as a composed, smiling person. This song tells the story of completely falling apart, faking happiness and moving on. It’s a road of misery and recovery all wrapped up in a beautiful four minutes and eighteen seconds. 

Following “Smiling,” “Ablaze” was written for Alanis’ children. It was released in 2018, so it isn’t as new as the other tracks the album features. A beautiful, catchy song, it’s a love letter from Alanis to her kids. She had two children at the time, her daughter Onyx and son Ever, but just last year she had a second son, Winter. Lyrics like “my mission is to keep the light in your eyes ablaze” show her devotion and love for her children. This is easily the most heartwarming song on the entire album and it gives a sneak peak of Alanis’ experiences with motherhood.

The third song, “Reasons I Drink” is a fan favorite. Raw, powerful and insistent, it starts with a cabaret-sounding piano that’s so catchy you can’t help but replay it. The instrumentals of the song are hard-hitting and urgent, but it’s the deepness of the lyrics that really tie the song together as a complete hit. Alanis explores her relationship with addiction. She revisits the theme of the album’s first song, “Smiling,” with the opening lyrics: “These are the reasons I drink / The reasons I tell everybody I’m fine even though I am not.” As the song progresses, we see Alanis’ battle with addiction, yet the comfort she finds, especially in the chorus: “I feel such rapture and my comfort is so strong / One more hit / It feels so helpful in my need for respite.” It has a powerful message and it has so much pure truth in it while at the same being an amazing song, both lyrically and musically. If you could listen to one song from this album, listen to this one.

“Diagnosis” follows “Reasons I Drink” with a softer, sadder sound to it. The instrumentals aren’t complex like the other songs on this album – the entire song is a piano ballad. With lines about not leaving the house and feeling uneasy, “Diagnosis” focuses on mental illness and the stigmas that accompany it. The song deals with Alanis’ postpartum depression and the negative criticism she faced through it. Really, the entire album contains themes of trauma, depression and motherhood – it switches from dark to happy emotions, and it works beautifully. “Diagnosis” is a lyrically gorgeous, underrated song, though it doesn’t quite musically hit as different as “Smiling” and “Reasons I Drink” do. 

Another piano ballad, “Missing the Miracle” is filled with poetic lyrics like “You call this ‘brick-and-mortar’ / I call this ‘sacred skin.’” It sounds depressing at the surface, but when you really analyze the entire song, it has a more hopeful, grateful theme. Like “Diagnosis,” it doesn’t have the same amazing musical effect as other songs on this album, but the lyrics are still meaningful and make the song worth listening to. 

The sixth song on this album is “Losing the Plot,” yet another piano ballad of poetic, lyrical genius. It doesn’t sound like the most powerful song, but sometimes the most powerful lines come across, as T.S. Eliot said, “not with a bang but with a whimper.” “Losing the Plot” digs deeper into motherhood, postpartum depression and pure exhaustion. It’s about completely giving up – as Alanis sings: “I am losing the plot / I am grieving the end of super-womaning / I have laid down my cape / As though I haven’t risen like a phoenix from a thousand deaths.” The song climaxes and ends much more powerfully than it begins, with the hard-hitting crescendo of an electric-guitar.

The vocals of the seventh song, “Reckoning,” are easily the best part of the entire song. It opens as yet another piano ballad, but as it continues there’s a different feel to the beat and melody than the other albums on the song. It’s a darker song than the other ballads on this album, with similar themes of sexual assault and melancholic vibes as her past music, but an entirely different song. Alanis has dealt with a lot through her career – such as her manager stealing millions from her without her knowing – and that is reflected in “Reckoning.”

The beginning of the eighth song, “Sandbox Love,”  reminds me of a cheesy Contemporary Christian song. It sounds a bit like Hillsong instead of Alanis the entire time, but the message of the song is pretty romantic. When you get past the instrumentals, the lyrics about pure, healing love are awesome. If the sound was a bit different, you could play it at your wedding.

The ninth song, “Her,” is another piano ballad. It’s such an emotional, personal song yet it seems like everyone that listens to it can relate in some way. There’s so many layers of lyrical depth, from the beginning line, “I am on the floor / I am in my kitchen / This place is so familiar on my knees / I can hear the footsteps / I can see their back walking out / I don’t know who to reach for when I need,” to the last lines, “And so I pray to Her today / I ask for mercy and I beg for pauses / She’s coming in hot like all Kali / And coursing through my veins like liquid Mary.” This song, like all music, is up for interpretation, but Alanis has said it’s about a material representation. It’s about the Divine Feminine, a strong mother and independent, powerful woman. Alanis is outspoken about patriarchal themes in religion and spirituality and this song is an interesting take on that. 

“Nemesis” is refreshingly not a piano ballad. Alanis calls out change as her nemesis, singing about the pain and suffering of a change you don’t want to make, like leaving family or friends for a new place. As a teen pop sensation, this song has a lot of Alanis’ old trauma in between the lyrics. It’s one of the sadder songs to the album, but a catchy one – one you need to listen to if you want to cry and dance at the same time. 

”Pedestal” ends the album with a sad bang. The last piano ballad, it has some of the most beautiful vocals on the entire album. It also has one of the deepest messages, with strong lyrics about fame. If you like Paramore’s “Idle Worship,” you will definitely enjoy this song. It has a bittersweet vibe to it, and it’s a strong ballad to end the album. 

While slightly repetitive, “Such Pretty Forks in the Road” is a rocking album. It’s Alanis’ love letter to her children, to herself and to the world. This album is definitely jam-packed with piano ballads, but they’re so raw and meaningful that it doesn’t matter. Alanis Morissette is a strong musician that weaponizes all the worst things of her entire life – the trauma, addictions, losses and pain – into a beautiful album. Even though she gained only half the success and recognition as other artists, her raw, unapologetic music deserves much more appreciation than it gets.