Author: Bruce Jenkins  Date Posted:29 April 2022 


If a mark of success in the music industry is to have your album turned into a Broadway musical, then Alanis Morissette nailed it with her 1995 LP Jagged Little Pill. Not only did the record win a Grammy for Album of the Year, but the musical based on it was nominated for over a dozen Tony Awards (the gongs for Broadway theatre productions). It also sold over 33 ⅓ million copies world wide, not too bad for a twenty-one year old Canadian-American.

The Alanis Morissette story did not, of course, begin with a world-beating album. After two Canada-only album releases, Alanis was encouraged to spread her wings musically and developmentally. She moved out of the family home and chose a songwriting partner, Glen Ballard. They co-wrote the songs on Jagged Little Pill, with Ms Morissette contributing the often confessional lyrics and the two collaborating on the music and arrangements. The sound is some distance from the dance-pop of Morissette’s debut, though it never abandons those pop-rock roots completely. Pill, however, incorporates a solid dose of grunge influence, the perfect vehicle for the angst of the young poet’s lyrics.

The descriptor 'young' is not in any way a diminishment of Alanis Morissette’s talents. The girl started young, self-releasing her first single at the age of ten years old using money earned from her appearances on a Canadian kid’s TV show. Her first music publishing contract was signed at age fourteen. So when she released Alanis in 1991, her teenage status belied considerable depth of experience.

That experience was both musical and experiential. Jagged Little Pill is a deeply personal album, drawing its often caustic lyrics and frequent outbursts of pain and anger from the writer’s own life in and around the music industry. "You oughta know" refers to a despised professional acquaintance poring over album credits looking for their name; "Right through you" skewers the exploitative practices of male music industry power brokers. Morissette’s Catholic upbringing gets examined and put firmly in its place as a repressive and destructive influence in "Forgiven" while the album’s biggest hit, "Ironic" shrugged off widespread criticism that the lyrics were not at all ironic to reach #4 in the US and #3 in Australia.

Why was such a personal album exploring the writer’s internal world embraced so warmly around the globe? How did these edgy, confessional songs strike a chord with millions? Perhaps it was a sense of hard-fought wisdom that came through the lyrics or the potency of a young woman powering out grunge-infused rock songs. Maybe it was a couple of excellent film clips or simply a very good collection of songs. Whatever. Jagged Little Pill set the bar for mid-1990s indi rock high, and defined coming-of-age for a generation of women (and others). What’s more, this particular prescription does not seem to have a use by date. The record remains a key release from the Nineties that is still being sought out today.


© Bruce Jenkins 2022

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