Alanis Morissette returns with disappointing new album
Music Review | 2 out of 5 stars
Published: Thursday, September 6, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 6, 2012 07:09
After a four-year musical hiatus, Alanis Morissette has finally returned with a new album titled “Havoc and Bright Lights.” Despite an impressive 20-year-long career that has yielded seven Grammy wins and 60 million albums sold worldwide, Morissette’s eighth musical endeavor actually sounds more sophomoric than sophisticated.
Morissette’s main misstep on “Havoc” is her attempt to tackle intense, meaningful themes through a fairly uninspiring musical structure. The Canadian singer-songwriter experienced the joys of marriage and motherhood during her time away, and she opts to discuss these emotional topics on the record alongside other heavy subjects like love, sexism and celebrity.
“The form [of the album] is the motherhood, but the essence of it really is a deepening of intimacy and a deepening of commitment,” she said in an interview with MTV about her latest release.
As a seasoned artist, Morissette clearly understands the need for substance in her songs. However, her light rock-pop genre and frequently juvenile lyrics fail to express the power of her ideas and opinions.
For example, the album’s second track, “Woman Down,” is a driving feminist number about a male-dominated society in which women are undervalued, disrespected and abused. The loud, edgy chorus exemplifies this with lyrics like, “Calling all lady haters/ why do you vilify us?” But though the topic is serious, the tone is not: beeping noises create a repetitive rhythm that is annoying rather than catchy, and the song’s generally synthetic sound results in a considerable disconnect between the lyrics and the tune. The song is surprisingly upbeat, especially during the refrain, making it seem less like a social critique and more like a feisty, yet oddly peppy, sing-along.
In another attempt at serious subject matter, this one entitled “Celebrity,” eerie instrumentation successfully works in tandem with the song’s message to emphasize the dangerous downsides of fame and fortune. Dissonant minor chords and screeching strings, though unpleasant on the ears, proclaim the evils of stardom, and a cringe-worthy buzzing in the background channels anxiety and unease.
However, a set of silly, immature lyrics detract greatly from the track’s full potential. In the first verse Morissette says, “Cause I’m aware of wheels, heels and vintage Gucci/ I’m on my twentieth round of vitamin V,” and towards the end she chants, “I am a tattooed sexy dancing monkey/ Just aloof enough to get you to want me.” Paired with Morissette’s trademark mezzo-soprano singing style, the words sound even more ludicrous and nonsensical, and they disengage listeners from the lyrics’ true meaning.
Morissette also fails to deliver on the main love song of the album, “’Til You.” Though her amorous lines, undoubtedly directed towards her husband, are sung with an earnest sincerity, the ethereal, airy music will have audiences thinking “sappy” instead of “romantic.” Gentle piano notes are set against soft and measured percussion, giving the tune a slow, ambling quality. Breathy “ooh’s” and “ahh’s” amid cascading electronic synth notes only add to the schmaltzy mood of the song, making Morissette’s tender ode to love appear trite and stale.
Although the majority of “Havoc and Bright Lights” is relatively bland, the album is not a total loss. “Havoc,” the title track, is a delicate personal confession about the singer’s internal struggles and individual flaws. A flowing piano riff combines with deep, orchestral notes that are both somber and soothing. Eventually, the piano dissolves into a high-pitched tinkling during the chorus, reminiscent of a music box.
“Receive,” a liberating anthem about Morissette learning to appreciate herself and to put her own needs before others, is reminiscent of her 90’s glory. With a buoyant, bright guitar that winds its way throughout the verses, the chorus seamlessly transforms into a forceful and compelling declaration from Morissette when she says, “Today’s all about me learning how, how to receive.”
Though Morissette’s attempts at exploring serious themes are innovative, her music fails to effectively convey these topics, ultimately making “Havoc and Bright Lights” a mediocre and disappointing album.