Thursday, 17 April 2014

Alanis Morissette - The Collection (2005)

Inevitably we come to Alanis Morissette, the one-woman empowering tampon advert meeting all your daily Nirvana requirements for readers of Cosmopolitan and viewers of Desperate Housewives alike, the beef curtain Cobain you can eat between meals without ruining your appetite, singing her way through the self-help section with just enough grunge to appear tasteful, and of course the woman who brought us Ironic.

Ha ha.

Ironic, as Ed Byrne, the wry Irish-themed chipmunk and professional comedy game show contestant observed, is a song without any ironic content, although you might regard that as itself ironic which would suggest that Alanis Morissette is actually fucking with us and knows more than she's saying. Whilst Byrne's routine undoubtedly comprises some of the most hilariously wry observations ever made by a stand up comedian, it's not entirely true, and he might have done better just telling his little jokes, prettily fluttering his eyelashes, and flicking his lush Celtic locks over one shoulder like the lady in the shampoo advert. Whilst certain situations described in the song Ironic may indeed be more properly characterised as simple bad luck, it seems safe to say that most of them would be considered ironic given a wider context. Rain on one's wedding day for example, whilst not in and of itself ironic, might be regarded as such after many weeks without rain, and it doesn't take hugely inventive leaps of imagination to frame the other examples given as having some potential irony. However, Alanis Morissette's job is to get over a certain level of meaning in a snappy three-minute pop song, not refute the existence of a Deity on a fucking message board, and if you can't quite see what she was getting at in Ironic, then you're probably an idiot. Little Richard's Tutti Frutti might equally well be considered gibberish in so much as the lyrics would doubtless be judged insubstantial were they to be submitted as a thesis as part of a doctorate in behavioural studies, but I suspect anyone with half a brain will understand what he was talking about.

Let's start again.

Whilst some criticisms made of the Morissette may well be justified, I find it hard to get around the double standards here - a variation on the rock classic of how Keith Richards snorting marijuanas out of a teenage vagina and then writing a song about it be some painful, frowning, manly shit and telling it like it is and that, whilst Courtney Love - or whoever else you care to mention with the same XX chromosomal configuration - must by definition be some crazy incoherent period lady castrating them menfolks on the way to the nuthouse; and I suspect Morissette's supposed loony menstrual no talent harridan credentials can be blamed upon her singing songs whilst failing to pop them out for the lads. Elsewhere we find related slings and arrows predicated on the notion that people who either read self-help literature, live in Portland, or who occasionally wish their boyfriend were less of a twat should not be allowed to listen to music because their problems aren't as artistic as that talentless hat-wearing wanker out of The Libertines eating heroin sandwiches.

It's all about the music, man, as these Mojo reading bumfaced cockmonglers themselves keep telling us over and over, and frankly Alanis Morissette scores quite well in that department. Not only does she have a reasonably amazing voice - expressive with a good range - but she knows how to knock out a tune, and understands the dynamics of putting a bit of music together. So it's all fairly self-involved, but really no more so than Nine Inch Nails, or probably about half of the music already in your collection; and whilst we're here I'm surprised how much of this actually reminds me of Trent Reznor's work, sort of a female Trent Reznor but grown-up and with a few vaguely folky, vaguely stadium trip hop touches chucked in for the sake of contrast. I'm not saying it's the most mind-blowing music ever recorded, but I really do feel the Morissette deserves significantly less sniggering from the cheap seats, not least because it's mostly hur hur hur chicks can't rock, man.

Nevertheless, excepting a hugely ill-advised Cole Porter cover to which her voice is entirely unsuited, and Mercy which is apparently from a prayer cycle or summink and thus steers a bit too close to Sting's Amazonian Experience for comfort, this is a surprisingly great set of songs. The almost absurdly powerful Thank You is still probably one of my top ten from whichever decade that was; and the big singles mostly sound even better than I remember; and Crazy rescues the Seal song from its mackerel-guzzling flipper clapping origins; and Uninvited almost turns into Led Zeppelin's Kashmir without anyone slipping in puddles of patchouli oil and breaking their neck.

Ironic will probably forever remain at best a guilty pleasure in public imagination thanks to the Ed Byrnes of the world - although it is admittedly entertaining when keyboard warriors cite it as evidence of the supposed American inability to grasp irony, given that Alanis Morissette isn't actually American - but fuck it, regardless of whatever received wisdom you may be labouring under, this is some damn good stuff.

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