Album review: Havoc and Bright Lights Alanis Morissette

In the lead up to Alanis Morissette's Vancouver concert on the 4th October, fans must have been listening avidly to the new album, "Havoc and Bright Lights" to get to know the new songs that were released back at the end of August. So far, the album reviews have been mixed. Many have noted that the single, 'Guardian', is as close to a trip in a time machine as you can get. If you were missing the mid-90s, this track will bring you a chance to get in touch with how it felt to hear a new single back then. Sadly, the same criticisms that existed of her music in the past, still persist: that shrill, nagging tone gets irritating after about three songs. And why can't she ever fit a word into a line of music as it's naturally pronounced in normal speech?

Alanis herself, has of course moved on in her personal life since her 90s success of 'Jagged Little Pill'. A mother and wife now, she has written an album that still shares all the same self-analysis themed lyrics as on JLP but with mention of care-taker roles and responsibility. Some of this is soaked in a much more comfortable, easy and predictable musical landscape, verging on Coldplay-style soft-rock suitable for background radio fodder. For one thing, she has chosen to co-write with Guy Sigsworth, producer/writer for Madonna, Britney Spears as well as Björk along with rock producer Joe Chiccarelli, known to Tori Amos fans as the guy who produced her failed 80s album, 'Y Kant Tori Read'. A strange combination, perhaps, but it certainly has resulted in a couple of rock/pop hit tracks ('Guardian' and 'Spiral') with the usual Alanis-overstated lyrics and Indian melody inclinations on the album.

Stand-out track

On 'Numb' for example, perhaps the stand-out track of the whole album, she offers up a rocking-out track with all of the angst and twisted melodies set against distorted guitar tracks of previous work on 'Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie'. However, she could be accused of re-hashing the same old stuff, with not a lot to distinguish between the two. Lyrically, she often fails to cloak the message in an interesting turn of phrase, preferring to state things in an ordinary, raw and sometimes even clumsy line of language, such as, "I get reduced by my own wilfulness as I reach for my usual god replacements" on 'Empathy'. It is perhaps ironic, that a song called 'Empathy' can incite such a reaction of revulsion and apathy that the listener really couldn't care less what Alanis's latest bout of navel-gazing has concluded.  

The element most glaringly neglected on this album though, is social commentary. Alanis was perhaps so caught up in her personal life dramas that the best she can do in discussing current affairs, is her 'Celebrity' track, which refers to being, "a tattooed, sexy dancing monkey", but this, frankly, is nothing tremendously new or current and lacks an original take on the whole idea, with such direct lyrics as "give me celebrity, my kingdom to be famous". Where is the mention of financial crisis, job losses and austerity? This album really could have been released anytime in the last ten years, and would not have sounded out of place.

Concert in Vancouver

For fans hoping to attend her gig on Thursday, with the ticket cost at time of writing at CA $119.25, there must be a sense of frustration at the financial commitment required to attend a gig of a singer who has failed to acknowledge the financial realities of her own fans. It begs the question as to whether artists even consider the financial climate when pricing gigs or choosing venues to play at. Those wanting to save money on tickets might be able to shop around for the best online offers, especially for accompanying things such as pre-gig dinners, travel or post-gig drinks in an effort to keep costs down on what could otherwise work out as a back-breakingly expensive night out. One can only wonder what the cost of programmes, T-shirts, badges and other merchandise might add up to. Perhaps Alanis should add a verse to her song 'Thank U' from 'Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie' to specifically note her gratitude to any fans who attend after such a mixed, mostly bland, 'nice' pop/rock record that basically says 'my life is pretty good right now' to her many fans who may well be feeling quite the contrary.

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