Album Review: Alanis Morissette's new album, 'Havoc And Bright Lights'
Despite living a life in the public eye ever since “Jagged Little Pill” shot her into the limelight 17 years ago, Alanis Morissette has admirably kept her wounds open for all to see, as well as shared her joys. She seems amazingly aware of every emotion that flickers though her as fleeting as it may be and has no trepidation or judgment of them, only observation.
She has plenty of joy and pain to share on the musically diverse “Havoc And Bright Lights,” produced by Guy Sigsworth and Joe Chiccarelli, and out Aug. 28. Since her last album, 2008’s “Flavors of Entanglement,” Morissette has married and become a mom and both of those experiences deeply inform “Havoc.”
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The gentle, sloping “Win & Win” details her feelings about husband, Mario “Souleye” Treadway, including her sense of inferiority and her immediate sense of attraction: “I had yearnings to sit across from you.” On the smooth jazzy and dreamy “‘Til You,” which sounds like it could have been the theme song to a romantic movie from the ‘70s, Morissette recounts how she was merely “dodging bullets,” until he came along.
Both first single “Guardian,” and “Receive” address motherhood and how easily she found it to lose her identity in her new son, as she sings on “Receive”: “My habit to love you first, and me: remainders. Favoring you is so knee-jerk leaves me a stranger.”
Morissette has worked on herself —a lot —and in her own words, is a “recovery junkie.” Similar souls will likely have a lot more patience with the validation going on in songs like “Empathy,” which features lingo straight out of a counseling session in “Hope Springs,” and is likely to leave some people feeling as squirmy asTommy Lee Jones’ character: “Thank you for seeing me/I feel so less lonely/Thank you for getting me/I’m healed by your empathy/Oh this intimacy...you come along and celebrate each feeling.” There’s no doubting her sincerity, but earnestness doesn’t always make for good songs...nor does jargon like “shame spiral.”
And then, other times they do. The confessions work much better on the gorgeous, atmospheric “Havoc.” Against a bed of strings and piano, Morissette plaintively sings “I offer mea culpa for the millionth time.” There’s a lot of self flagellation going on here for backsliding into bad behavior, but the melody and production are in such lockstep with the lyrical feeling of falling that the overall effect is stunning.
Morissette, whose voice sounds as pliant and supple as always, still seems at her most potent when she’s still got a little bit of an edge, even if the chip on her shoulder is long gone, and she looks outward, as well as inward. On the middle-eastern inflected, driving “Celebrity,” she questions the need to acquire fame for fame’s sake, taking on all the “tattooed sexy dancing monkeys,” who give their “kingdom to be famous.”
She applies the same approach to the “Woman Down,” a song that traces the sad trail of tears that have kept women down for decades and concludes that if nothing changes, your daughter will face the same scorn your mother did. However, the medicine is bathed in such a dance-y, interesting beat that it goes down very smoothly.
Much of the lyrics, especially in songs like the dense, industrial “Numb,” sound stream of consciousness as she details her emotions that change as quickly as a traffic light.
Sigsworth (best known for his work with Madonna) and Chiccarelli produce together and apart and the result is an album that sometimes sounds too dense, but for the most part, provides a propulsive, synthetic pulse to the music that is often much more interesting than the lyrics, such as the militant drum beat on “Receive” or the jangly guitar on “Spiral.”
As she showed as far back as 1998’s “Thank U,” Morissette has learned to express gratitude for the moments of peace, as well as for the moments of angst that frequently punctuate them. As Morissette has seemingly always realized, perhaps in a more balanced way than ever before on “Havoc And Bright Lights,” life is messy, complicated, horrible, and beautiful, sometimes all at once.