Jagged Little Pill

BY SIMON SWEETMAN
Last updated 08:59 02/08/2010

Alanis MorissetteI've never heard this album. Never listened to it. Of course I know the singles - they were everywhere.

I'm talking about Alanis Morissette and her "debut", Jagged Little Pill. It was actually her third album but it was the international debut. And it is - as far as numbers go - one of the most successful albums of all time.

Jagged Little Pill was released in 1995 and I heard snatches of the album from behind closed doors in the hostel where I was living. Over the next two years five of the six singles from the album were everywhere.

Alanis was angry and she was getting one back for women everywhere. She was manic and wound up and apparently "perverted" on You Oughta Know. She was very dextrous with one hand and possibly just scratching her nether regions with the other (well, she said she was perverted) for Hand In My Pocket. She was wise-as with You Learn - giving us the album's title in one of the lines and talking about all sorts of wisdom. She was the bearer of some kind of meta-irony opening Head Over Feet with the line "I had no choice but to hear you" - as I'm sure that's how many of us felt. Especially men with girlfriends. And possibly some ladies with girlfriends...

And speaking of ironies, she was, well, sadly lacking a dictionary with Ironic - running through a list of things that were more annoying than ironic and often simply ludicrous.

But I'm not going to poke fun at Ironic and its lyrical content. Because it's been done.

I like what Ed Byrne says in that clip posted above: "she's a moaning cow". He suggests that even people who liked Alanis knew she was annoying and whinging.

But with those five songs - and also All I Really Want which is my favourite of the big singles simply because I do not remember it as well as the other five annoying songs - and with the album Jagged Little Pill Alanis marched into people's relationships; a third wheel grinding along, making happy people question whether they were actually happy. Making many people keep shameful secrets that they actually kinda liked this moaning cow because they had simply heard the music so much and their partner who had questionable music taste (if not questionable taste overall) was so into Alanis that it had well and truly rubbed off.

I remember when Morissette toured New Zealand on the back of Jagged Little Pill in 1996/7. I didn't go. I had no interest in going. But I remember being told that it was awful. And I remember being told by a friend at the time, who went with her flatmate who just loved Alanis that when the song Hand In My Pocket came on and Alanis pulled her hand from her pocket to produce a harmonica on which to produce a one-note in-and-out harmonica solo the girl who loved Alanis turned to the person next to her, super-excited, announcing "oh my god, is that what makes that noise? No way!"

Now, I know that you can make a guitar sound like bagpipes and you can make bagpipes sound, well, vaguely tuneful. You can coax all manner of sounds from guitars and keyboards and with computers and home studios these days you can turn a fart into a bass drum sound. You really can. I have not tried. But I would like to. Because I have been told that you can.

But I think that if a person cannot recognise a harmonica they should have their stereo confiscated. They are an idiot. A carer should be placing a cork on the end of their fork, just as a precaution.

If you cannot recognise a harmonica - especially when it's friggin' Alanis Morissette crudely parping in to (I'd almost understand if it was Toots Thielemans or Larry Adler) then you do not deserve anything beyond Alanis Morissette. You deserve a CD shelf with not only Jagged Little Pill but also the inferior second, third and fourth international releases that followed. The cash-cow unplugged album and later the 10th Anniversary Jagged Little Pill Acoustic.

The worst thing about this fad - this record-breaking album of nonsense by a faux-angry, lank-haired almost-hippie - is that it made the record companies go out, as they always do, and sign as many wannabes in that style as they could. We got inferior albums by Paula Cole and a host of other goons. Fiona Apple, Tracy Bonham, urgh - all these birds just gJagged Little Pillot in there and sang their diaries, complained about their families and ex-boyfriends and current boyfriends and the men that would never be their boyfriends.

It was a disgusting time for music. And it all came from so many people swallowing that Jagged Little Pill.

So, did you drink it down? Did you buy Alanis Morissette's "international debut"; because some of you must have. Apparently over 30 million suckers bought it. And please spare me this whole "it sold heaps, it must be good" logic. Lots of people read Dan Brown novels too. Lots of people loved Avatar. Lots of people love being spoon-fed.

I'm glad I never heard Alanis in anything other than snatches - because it's dreadful, ghastly music. And I bet it has aged terribly.

But what about you? Are you a fan now or were you a fan back then? Or do you have a story of being the boyfriend or girlfriend of some non-harmonica-spotting/cork-on-fork-having Alanis Morissette fan? And if you do have one of those stories I hope you made it out with as much of your dignity as you could. And I hope you ran for the hills. And I hope this blog-post hasn't caused you too much grief. Because, well, if you escaped the pain of Alanis's Jagged Little Pill only to be reminded of it here and now, well, that would be ironic; don't ya think?

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99 comments
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Kirsty   #1   09:09 am Aug 02 2010

I bought JLP when it first came out and like millions of women everywhere applauded Alanis for saying a lot of the stuff we're often thinking. But I thrashed the album and eventually turned myself off it. I haven't listened to it for years, but someone at work had it on the other day and I reflected on how little appeal it had for me anymore.

I have a Canadian friend who went to school with her - they were in the same class. She says that Alanis was a fairly haughty sort, but at that age none of the angst apparent in JLP was in evidence at school.

One would hope not.

Ben   #2   09:16 am Aug 02 2010

I used to see other peoples comments that you are unnessesary negative and just 'hate' on things because that's all you can do, and dismiss them as comments from people who can't seperate critisim of the things they like from critisim of who they are. But I'm less sure of your motives now. Why bring up a 15 year old album to criticise and 'hate' on? So you didn't listen to any of her music, or go to see her show but it was terrible anyway? That's not an informed opinion, that's just being a hater. I'm no fan of hers. I never listened to her music or went to see her show either, but I won't look down on someone who did.

Pete   #3   09:17 am Aug 02 2010

Never liked it or her, and thought the Ed Byrne stand-up was one of the best depictions of Alanis's music out there.

But, while I agree that Paula Cole and Tracy Bonham were of similar ilk, I actually think Fiona Apple was better than Alanis. Try 'Shadowboxer' from Tidal, which is quite a nice bluesy tune.

Michael   #4   09:17 am Aug 02 2010

Everything in this blog made me smile or laugh. Its all so true, she doesn't even have a nice sounding voice let alone decent lyrics.

bentel   #5   09:20 am Aug 02 2010

HEY! I like Fiona Apple ...

Grant McDougall   #6   09:31 am Aug 02 2010

So mediocre it's not even worth spending time slagging her music off any further. A classic example of "music for people that don't like music".

Udo   #7   09:32 am Aug 02 2010

Never considered listening to it beyond what I heard on the radio. I always thought that Uncle Joey should have received some royalties from the 30 gazillion copies this thing sold as, without him, none of the angst would exist now would it? Would it?

Paul McG   #8   09:40 am Aug 02 2010

Well obviously the writer of this article needs to learn how to relax and have more of an open mind.

For it's time Jagged Little Pill was very refreshing as their was nothing else like it around the marketplace. So based on that of course it had an audience and a large one at that.

Unfortunately a lot of inferior artists jumped onto the 'Pill' bandwagon and as always happens the market, especially recently, becomes saturated in pathetic knockoffs.

dragonzflame   #9   09:43 am Aug 02 2010

Aw, that's pretty mean. Alanis was great if you were an angsty teenage girl. Therefore you can't really be expected to 'get' her.

I found her a great antidote to some of the other saccharine fodder that was big at the time; think Backstreet Boys and Mariah Carey. And she was just gritty enough to make me feel really rebellious, moving onto Jagged Little Pill from Spice Girls.

And yes, I still enjoy JLP from time to time. The rest of her albums, not so much.

Simon DC   #10   09:44 am Aug 02 2010

What it all comes down to, Simon, is that you haven't figured out how to ignore pop music just yet. There will always be record companies churning out mindless throwaway music for insecure idiots who need C4 or The Edge to tell them what to listen to if they want to be cool. I just try to ignore it and hope that it doesn't impact on my life too much.


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