After the first two singles from Alanis Morissette’s new album, ‘Diagnosis’ and ‘Smiling’ turned out to be absolutely spot-on in terms of her signature confessional style. I must admit I was nervous about the album, after so long,could she live up to the legacy of Jagged Little Pill – currently celebrating 25 years since its release?
In a word, yes. Of course it’s hard to compare something new with something that’s been ingrained in the public consciousness for decades, but Such Pretty Forks In The Road is a good album with songs that could become every bit as iconic as ‘You Oughta Know’ and ‘Right Through You’. But for some reason the marketing push just hasn’t been there.
It doesn’t help that the first track is the album version of ‘Smiling’ , which felt limp in comparison to the F9 club remix. But then ‘Ablaze’ comes along, with its heart-warming mantra of, “my mission is to keep the light in your eyes ablaze” addressed to her children. Maybe it’s my age, but I’m only just starting to notice and appreciate the songs that artists write for their children, like ‘Have To Stay’ from Dido’s most recent album or a number of the tracks on Song For Our Daughter by Laura Marling. It’s not a surprising trend, but it feels under-reported on and ‘Ablaze’ is a good example of this maturing.
This newly found sense of responsibility runs throughout Such Pretty Forks In The Road, as Morissette grapples with her alcohol abuse, impulsivity, and whether or not she has a diagnosable mental illness. ‘Reasons I Drink’ is a refreshing take on female alcoholism, as she explores the feelings of ‘rapture’ and comfort that drinking provides with lines like, “Nothing can give reprieve like they do / Nothing can give a break from this torture like they do,” or “These are the ones whom I know it so deeply affects / And I am left wondering how I would function without it.”
‘Diagnosis’ approaches the topic of mental illness from a position of defeat, as she sings, “Call it what you want / Cuz I don’t even care anymore / Call me what you need to / To make yourself comfortable,” and acknowledges the people trying to help her, while admitting to feeling out of control and mired in confusion.
They often say that recognising you have a problem is the first step, and that’s where Morissette seems to be on this album. There’s no triumph here, instead a grim determination to keep going and keep making music. As she says on ‘Smiling’, “This is my first wave of my white flag / This is the sound of me hitting bottom / This my surrender if I can bear it / And the anatomy of my crash.”
And what a crash it is. ‘Missing The Miracle’ and ‘Pedestal’ explore the way uneven power dynamics, idealisation, and incompatibility can ruin a relationship, while ‘Losing The Plot’ sees her wrestling with her legacy and her experiences in the music industry. A beautiful piano ballad, it demonstrates the full musicality of Morisette’s vocals – at points stripped back and at times booming and layered with electric guitars.
‘Losing The Plot’ is apparently about her decision to move out of LA, the kind of song that can only be written by an artist with a bit of life-experience behind them with lines like, “And everybody is rushing to sob at the podium and thank the ones who loved and exploited well”. She sounds exhausted and frustrated, a middle-aged woman in an industry obsessed with the young and the naive. And while Morissette might be concerned that all that’s left is her “relevance in dust”, Such Pretty Forks In The Road clearly demonstrates that she’s still got it – the ability to make us fall in love with her songwriting and her anger, like we did so many years ago.
Words: Ana Hine