Alanis Morissette needs no introduction, but she deserves one. At 21 years old, her breakthrough album, Jagged Little Pill sold 33 million copies worldwide, was nominated for nine Grammy Awards, winning five (including Album of the Year), and it’s one of the best-selling albums of all time. The singles are magnificent – each a warranted choice for best song on the album. Whether you were a year old in 1995, 13-years-old or pushing 30, “You Oughta Know” and “Ironic” were inescapable. Most astounding of all, Morissette channeled unflinching female rage in a fashion that was unheard of in mainstream music at the time. She also didn’t dream about growing older – she had one hand in her pocket, and the other one “giving a high five,” “flicking a cigarette,” and “hailing a taxi cab.” She effectively became the voice of a generation overnight – a voice for those who never expressed their desires, their fears, or their anger.
In many ways, Morissette’s ninth album — her first album in eight years — Such Pretty Forks in the Road, feels like a love letter to her many past selves. Originally written for the 2018 Jagged Little Pill musical, opener “Smiling” calls back to the drama of “Uninvited,” as well as the Radiohead classic, “My Iron Lung,” echoing Jonny Greenwood’s descending guitar notes; only quieter. “Smiling” also paves the way for the rest of the album: she’s back, and she’s more confessional than ever.
The lead single, “Reasons I Drink,” is a lively number that feels timeless. However, the bright, springing piano couldn’t mask the jaw-dropping honesty. “And here are the reasons I eat/Reasons I feel everything so deeply when I’m not medicated,” she sings with her signature dry drawl. The music video for “Reasons I Drink” is fitting: ordinary people in an Alcoholics Anonymous group, with Alanis making three separate appearances, at different stages of her life — an exhausted woman battling postpartum depression; all dressed-up and even looking famous; and a reflection of simpler, happier times: the iconic “Ironic” outfit.
Such Pretty Forks in the Road reintroduces us to Alanis the woman, the human being. For so long, she was renowned for her anger. While she’s always been remarkably honest, here, she strips away her armor: that wail we all know and love is used sparingly, as is her rage. Rather than express rage outwardly, her fury is used as a weapon of forgiveness.
Producers, Alex Hope (Tegan and Sara, Troye Sivan) and Catherine Marks (Alex Lahey, Manchester Orchestra) share producing duties. The album closer, “Pedestal,” was the first song Marks worked on, which had her in tears from the moment she pressed play. It’s easy to see why: the song’s reflective nature tears the adulation we award artists apart. “You’re left with a human being/You’re left with a fallible soul,” she muses, weighing up the worth of this existence of extremes.
A plaintive ballad, the song doesn’t lose its punch. “One day, you’ll see that you’ve never really seen me/And one day, you’ll find out that everything you dreamed of wasn’t who stood before you,” is a sentiment shared by Paramore on “Idle Worship,” with Hayley Williams claiming that she’s “not your superhuman,” and she thinks “it’s safe to say your savior doesn’t look a thing” like her. The impact pedestals (and platforms) have on artists and fandoms alike has become unbearably toxic, especially in recent years. This conversation is long overdue.
“Ablaze” is most reminiscent of Morissette’s classic sound — the loving ode to each of her children asks of their light and innocence to remain intact. Later, Morissette tackles a far more complex facet of motherhood. On the gorgeous “Diagnosis,” she opens up about the relief of finally hearing her diagnosis for postpartum depression. Having experienced postpartum depression with the births of her first two children, there was that wonder that maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t be so bad the third time around.
She explains it with the utmost empathy for herself and every other mother: on a poignant October 2019 newsletter, she found herself “reaching this point again where the sleeping giants of my survival strategies are being roused.” Meanwhile, “Diagnosis” captures the moments where she felt broken, where her “lens is skewed,” her limbs recoil, and she folds in on herself since she is out of order. Like the irate Alanis of “Hands Clean,” she rallies against stigmas that actively harm communities.
Taking down predators and giving a voice to survivors, “Reckoning” is the darkest song on Such Pretty Forks in the Road. At long last, it’s judgment day for predators and peace for the prey. When she sings, “I hope you enjoy these drawings in your jail,” it’s difficult not to connect her ex Business Manager, Jonathan Shwartz — who was sentenced to six years in prison and $8.65 million in restitution after stealing from Morissette for years — to the song. She isn’t vengeful, not like she once was, but forgiveness won’t come easily.
A majority of Such Pretty Forks in the Road is ballad-heavy and piano-based. It’s a fair call to say that the second half of the album, in particular, blends together. While the arrangements aren’t overly complex and sometimes feel monotonous, there’s so much more to love. The narratives on display are not only strong, memorable anthems; they feel authentic. Alanis Morissette still has that voice we adore.
We, as a society, push “aging” women out of the spotlight, or only save a place for one “aging” woman. It’s the disgraceful open secret of the music business. But, there is a change coming: in April this year, Fiona Apple’s fifth album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters debuted at number four on the US Billboard 200, number one on the US Top Alternative Albums, while also charting in the top 15 in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. At 42 years old, she made arguably the best album of her career so far in an industry that dismisses women after they turn 26. Alanis Morissette is 46 years old, and guess what? She is still on fire, and you should keep paying attention.