Alanis Morissette

True confessions time: I found 1995's Jagged Little Pill, Morissette's blockbuster first album, to be about as much fun as a sesame seed wedged so tightly between two teeth that no amount of flossing can dislodge it. Likewise, the 1999 concert the warbler headlined in support of her Eastern-music-influenced Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie struck me as painful in the extreme -- approximately two hours' worth of badly botched imitations of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" whose lyrics were to genuine mysticism what Gary Condit is to proper intern-employer relations.

Clearly, that era's Alanis was in need of a better spiritual guide, and given the oddly constructed title of her latest CD, I was hoping she'd found one in the greatest philosopher of our time, Yoda. Her previous declarations would have been ever so much more interesting, I realized, had their order been reversed in the manner of the diminutive Jedi master/plush toy -- like, for instance, "Is ironic it not?" or "Go down on you in a theater, would she?" and "Me you are thinking of when fuck you her?"

Unfortunately, though, only a handful of the lines featured in Under Rug Swept have been fed into the Empire Strikes Back Mixmaster: My favorite couplet is "I am a man as a man I've been told / Bacon is brought to the house in this mold" (from "A Man"), which has a certain Seussian quality to it. Most of the rest are in traditional syntax, but by pop-song standards, they're allowed to run on at positively Joycean length. "That particular month, we needed time to marinate in what 'us' meant" (featured in "That Particular Time") and "This pill will help me yet, as will these boys gone through like water" (part of "Precious Illusions") would be a mouthful for a Shakespearean actor, and Sir Laurence Olivier Morissette's not. She sings sometimes, screeches at others -- a neat corollary for the disc's music, which is alternately ordinary and irritating.

As for the recording's tone, there are no thank-yous for India this time around. Instead, Morissette is back to being the woman in charge, and Svengalis like Glen Ballard or the villain of "Hands Clean" need not apply. She kicks off the proceedings with "21 Things I Want in a Lover," in which she lists her requirements for a companion ("Are you both masculine and feminine? Politically aware? And don't believe in capital punishment?"), then quickly follows up with "Narcissus," about a fella who apparently didn't measure up by her yardstick ("I know you've had your butt licked by your mother"). Little insecurities pop up every now and then, as in "So Unsexy," but even moments of weakness are couched in the language of self-actualization, like the "Flinch" query "How long before my dignity's reclaimed?"

I'm the wrong guy to ask about that, and so is Frank Oz, who most certainly doesn't have his hand up Morissette's skirt. But in the words of the famed puppet Oz did manipulate prior to advances in computer graphics, "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." After listening to Under Rug Swept, I can definitely relate to that.

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Michael Roberts
Contact: Michael Roberts