Havoc & Bright Lights
For some reason 2012 has become the year of the powerful female singer-songwriter releasing an album after a long hiatus (Fiona Apple, Cat Power, Sinead O’Connor) or trying to come back from a disappointing effort (Regina Spektor, Norah Jones). Alanis Morissette is trying to capitalize on this trend with her first album in five years, Havoc and Bright Lights, and I fully expect Natalie Merchant and Sarah McLachlan to pile on as well. In all seriousness, I haven’t listened to an Alanis record since Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (her sophomore album), and was shocked to learn she has released three albums in the interim between Junkie and Havoc. Alanis recent work has literally been more of a part of my consciousness through her appearance on a couple of seasons of Weeds, than she has been through me listening to any of her recent music.
This is strange, because I’m not sure Alanis ever did anything to lose me as a fan. I still revisit Jagged Little Pill, and the magnificent “Uninvited” quite often. I think more than anything, her past three albums have not gotten any singles press, and she just kind of faded out of my view. That is all about to change, and I am going to lift my blinders to Alanis Morissette for better or for worse.
For worse…or mostly at least. But let’s start with the good stuff. Alanis has lost none of the boldness or weirdness that made everyone fall in love with her in the first place. It baffles me to this day how her voice, with its strange tones, never seems to grate on me. Maybe because she never takes it too far, always subsequently balancing out the more aggressive delivery with instances of extreme beautification. Her range is simply phenomenal.
Unfortunately, the music backing up Alanis’ one-of-a-kind pipes doesn’t do her justice. There is still some nice scaling guitar action on “Lens” and “Receive”, which she has made a staple of hers since “Jagged Little Pill”, but it sounds too finally sculpted, and doesn’t reach the level of deliriousness of her early career. She pushes outside her comfort zone on both “Woman Down” (a more dancey number) and “Celebrity”, but both songs are a real mixed bag. “Woman Down” & “Celebrity” both carry some serious industrial aspects, with “Woman Down” sounding like it could fit right in on Pretty Hate Machine. The issue with both of these tracks is how much they drip with “message”.
Domestic abuse and the evils of celebrity are both valid topics to write songs about, but particularly with “Woman Down” it seems a little forced. Kind of like her producer was like, “Hey Alanis, people like to hear you sing really pissed off. How about a song about abuse toward women?”. How forced this all feels is made all the more apparent when listening to the strongest track on the album, “Havoc”.
A simple piano ballad, Alanis could not possibly muster more sincerity out of three strong verses and a beautiful chorus on “Havoc”. With every recitation of the chorus, the desperation in Alanis’ voice as she’s singing “I’m slipping again” becomes more apparent while the snare drums intensify. It is a stunning track, and one reason I think every album deserves a fair shot.
Havoc and Bright Lights is not a particularly rough listen, but it does lack consistency or big draws (outside of “Havoc”) to become more than an occasional listen.
Can’t Miss: “Havoc”, “Guardian”, “Woman Down” (flawed but interesting)
Can’t Hit: “Til You”, “Empathy”, “Spiral”