The sound was acoustic, but the mood was electric when Alanis Morissette returned to Glen Ballard’s home studio in the spring of 2005 to rerecord Jagged Little Pill--the classic, universally beloved and critically acclaimed album that the pair first collaborated on ten years ago. By creating Jagged Little PillAcoustic--a brand new song-for-song rendering of the album that changed her life and the lives of countless others--a decade earlier, Morissette was daring to revisit her own history in a fresh musical light. At the same time, she was acknowledging and honoring this significant anniversary of an album that introduced a powerful new young voice to our culture. Yet even for a famously brave artist like Morissette, the prospect was a little daunting.
“As I was driving to Glen’s place, it felt awkward,” Morissette recalls. “It was almost like returning to a house that I shared with an ex-boyfriend even though I wasn’t sexually involved with Glen at all. This was like going back somewhere in your past you thought you’d never return to again, only to find that place was plentifully safe, and even fun. There is a full circle aspect in having returned.”
A lot had changed in ten years, including the artist herself. “I have evolved in many ways…I have a better sense of boundaries, a better ability to communicate--generally I’m just a lot more comfortable in my own skin,” ALANIS explains. “I also see that I have simply expanded upon who I already was in 1995, and there is a continuity between who I was then and who I am now. “Going back showed me I could return anywhere and remain intact. I hadn’t worked with Glen since 1998, but the thought of doing this record without him would have been half of an experience. For me there’s something truly poetic about the prodigal daughter returning to the studio where we originally recorded these songs and revisiting them in this way.”
“This way” turns out to be with love, ingenuity and a characteristically open rediscovery and celebration of what Jagged Little Pill meant then and what it means today. Using an eclectic group of acoustic instruments--from perapaloshka to maraca, pump organ to pianoforte--and reworking many of the song’s harmonies and melodies, MORISSETTE and Ballard have created Jagged Little Pill Acoustic--an exciting and mature new harmonic convergence. The sound is elegant and contemporary, but as passionate and powerful as ever.
“The songs from Jagged Little Pill were written and recorded in a trance, and now the opportunity for us to revisit these songs a decade later is both a treat and an act of discovery,” says Glen Ballard. “It’s a frolic for us to honor these songs with new arrangements, in a more deliberately acoustic way, and to rediscover the astonishing power of what we captured in that time and place.”
The original Jagged Little Pill was a true phenomenon. With its global hits “You Oughta Know,” “Ironic,” “Hand In My Pocket,” “You Learn” and “Head Over Feet,” it is recognized as the best-selling debut by a female solo artist, having sold over 30 million copies worldwide, including 14 million in the U.S., and was named as “Album of The Decade” by Billboard. The album’s influence endures all these years later. The album earned four GRAMMY Awards: Album of the Year, Best Female Rock Vocal Performance ("You Oughta Know"), Best Rock Song ("You Oughta Know") and Best Rock Album. At 21, she became the youngest artist to win the "Album of the Year" category.
For Morissette herself, Jagged Little Pill was “a life-altering event and I think the biggest piece of that was my no longer being anonymous. I already considered myself an observer of life, an observer of people and of the human condition. Then all of a sudden I was the person being observed. That was jarring for me, and there was a lot of grief involved in that my life was going to be forever altered in that way.”
Ten years later, Morissette adds with a hearty laugh, “I’m glad I didn’t jump off a bridge then. I have a lot more objectivity on why people connected with the songs, whereas ten years ago I didn’t really understand. While there was undeniably an element of planets aligning, I also see that there was a vulnerability, an authenticity and an autobiographical approach to Jagged Little Pill that was so clear and generous and courageous. I understand now why people would feel comforted by it, validated by it, supported by it and even repulsed by it. I see the sharing and touring of that album now as an invitational act. The act of sharing these songs with people publicly was an invitation for people to feel less alone, to express themselves, and to define themselves in accordance to each song.”
When she and Ballard finished Jagged Little Pill in 1995, Morissette says, “I had no expectations. I just remember really loving the record and feeling this sense of relief at finally creating a collaborative environment in which I felt fully held and understood and seen as an artist. That was such a high goal of mine--that was the pinnacle of success for me.”
With the album’s first single “You Oughta Know” leading the way, Jagged Little Pill became more than just astronomically successful, it was also an occasion for a singular sort of musical group therapy. “I do remember people saying I was putting into words and into songs what they were feeling but hadn’t yet articulated,” Morissette recalls. “So there was an inadvertent taking on of a spokesperson role. Ten years on I’m embracing that role more. In 1994, I was thinking in an egocentric way that I was the only person on the planet experiencing these things--only to realize a week after ‘You Oughta Know’ came out that I wasn’t at all alone in my experiences. That seemed both comforting and confounding.”
The album did more than make Morissette a massive star--it transformed her seemingly overnight into a spokesperson for a generation and inspired countless other artists, particularly female artists—to try to speak their own truths. Avril Lavigne recently called Jagged Little Pill “my favorite record,” while Lisa Marie Presley notes, “Jagged Little Pill broke the dam and opened a floodgate for women in rock!” “I didn’t consciously understand or take that kind of responsibility at first,” Morissette recalls. “People started asking me, `Do you feel a responsibility to people to represent them?’ And I remember saying outrightly, ‘No, I have NO responsibility to anyone besides my self.’ On a certain level, I still feel that. However, I now feel inspired by the thought of it. In the singing of my own experiences, I can thereby put words to emotions on other people’s behalves now. The thought of inspiring other artists to be as transparent as I’ve been in their own music or art is very exciting because transparency is a concept I hold very dear. I could die happy knowing I’ve supported and inspired that.”
At the time, much was made of the anger Morissette expressed on Jagged Little Pill, but in retrospect, this seems a bit of a shallow caricature.
“The album has a visceral quality to it that people at times misinterpret singularly as rage, yet if you listen to songs like `You Learn’ or `Head Over Feet,’ there’s not an ounce of rage in those songs,” she says. “One aspect of what people were responding to was the anger--no question. But another aspect was the urgency and an explosiveness in the songs I was writing with Glen. Unplugging a song brings out a different emotionality to the songs. For instance, the electric guitar on `You Oughta Know’ makes it sound more overtly rage-filled. Broken down into its acoustic form, the vulnerability and heartbroken-ness emerges more obviously. In terms of whether my anger has ‘gone away’ as some are saying, all they’d have to do is listen intently to more current songs to see that it is alive and well, in many different forms.”
In the end, even “You Oughta Know” is a powerfully personal statement less about hurting someone than it is about being hurt by someone. “This new version really evidences that and I’m grateful because for a long time I had people running up to me on the street saying, `You hate men too.’ And while there’s no doubt I’ve had my issues with hating men, that particular song was less about my wanting to seek revenge on someone and more about my transparently showing the deep sadness of my state. It was far easier to be angry than it was to be devastated.”
Despite all that Morissette has done since Jagged Little Pill as an artist--including her subsequent releases, 1999’s Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie and Unplugged, 2002’s Under Rug Swept and FEAST ON SCRAPS (DVD/CD) and 2004’s So-Called Chaos--she found it was a significant pleasure turning again through these back pages. Helping Morissette this time were members of her current touring band: David Levita on guitar and other instruments including mandolin and marxophone, Jason Orme on guitar, Blair Sinta on drums and percussion, Zac Rae on assorted keyboards and Cedric Lemoyne on bass. String arrangements are by Glen Ballard and Suzie Katayama.
Morissette--who will launch her first-ever acoustic tour in North America on June 7th in Toronto--says that the most amusing part of revisiting these Jagged memories was relating to a few of her past sentiments.
“Any kind of lyric that moves into the realm of victim consciousness is a little challenging to me now,” Morissette confesses. “Writing these songs as a teenager, it was probably appropriate for the victim consciousness to be in full force, just in terms of life passages. But taking full responsibility has become more prevalent as I’ve grown into adulthood. So if I were a thirty-year-old still implying that I’m a victim, even I wouldn’t want to hear that! But to hear it from a teenager or someone in their early twenties raging against the many machines is entertaining.”
Jagged Little Pill (Acoustic) is gorgeous, life-affirming proof that ev