Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Alanis Morissette

  • Jagged Little Pill [Maverick/Reprise, 1995] B+
  • Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie [Maverick/Reprise, 1998] A-
  • MTV Unplugged [Maverick, 1999] *
  • Under Rug Swept [Maverick, 2002] A-
  • So-Called Chaos [Maverick, 2004] ***

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Jagged Little Pill [Maverick/Reprise, 1995]
I was down with the Riot Grrrl Appreciation Society on this reluctant refugee from Canadian children's television, who some say was invented by Madonna herself so she could distract the publicity machine while raising her own biological girl. That is, I approved when she played the pissed-off spikehead and recoiled from such candid self-dramatizations as "Perfect" and "Mary Jane." But with help from six or seven arrantly effective songs, she's happy to help 15 million girls of many ages stick a basic feminist truth in our faces: privileged phonies have identity problems too. Not to mention man problems. B+

Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie [Maverick/Reprise, 1998]
If "pop" means anything anymore, it ain't this. As a SoundScan-certified megadeal, she's outgrown the bright appeal of pop the way she's outgrown the punky abrasions that gave the debut its traction off the blocks. The mammoth riffs, diaristic self-analysis, and pretentious Middle Eastern sonorities of this music mark it as "rock," albeit rock with tunes. And in this context I suck it up, feeling privileged to listen along with all the young women whose struggles Morissette blows up to such a scale. Here's hoping lots of young men feel the same. A-

MTV Unplugged [Maverick, 1999]
Why do you think they love her? because she's lovable, stupid ("Princes Familiar," "You Learn"). *

Under Rug Swept [Maverick, 2002]
Once dissed as the voice of pseudofeminist exploitation, Morissette was in fact a thinking original in a showbiz context she had the stuff to make something of. The pop-rock here lacks the faux-punk edge Glen Ballard got on the debut and the expansive grandeur he manufactured for the follow-up. But Morissette instantly demonstrates her gift for the catchy, crunching out a guitar riff and then revealing 21 "not necessarily needs but things that I prefer" in a lover. Stretching out il-lu-si-on and for-med to suit scansion or mood, opposing capital punishment and coming out for sex "more than three times a week," topping memorable verse with indelible chorus, she's a self-actualized nut who goes for what she wants, exactly as pretentious as the college girls she represents for. Whatever the biographical details, I hear love songs to a narcissist, an old flame, an "employee" (has anyone used that word in a song before?), plus a self-doubt anthem for perspective and gorgeous regrets for pathos. Even when the forced pronunciations turn gauche, she remains a good egg who's not afraid to put herself on the line. A-

So-Called Chaos [Maverick, 2004]
Platinum role model can't help helping others, so she tries to help other girls avoid this mistake ("Eight Easy Steps," "Doth I Pretend Too Much") ***