When barely post-adolescent Alanis Morissette exploded spewing vitrol and bodily fluids with her raging accusation of the spurned, “You Oughta Know” from the mega-hit Jagged Little Pill, her righteous fury eclipsed everything else about her music. A Canadian child, Morissette’s debut landed on the back of MTV’s hair metal; using producer Glen Ballard’s thrust to add punch to insightful lyrics and trippy melodies, she become the steroidal Joni Mitchell for a new generation.
Yet, Morissette was never about fame. Ubiquitous for a few years, rather than basking in her celebrity, she withdrew from the red carpet and sought higher truth in India. Her always expansive lyrics, often exploring the painful aspects of personal dynamics and very human interactions, continued to pressing for deeper meaning.
Twenty years later, the lithe songwriter embraces the same hybrid notion of introspection and sonics that are anything but singer/songwriterly. With a churning guitar lash and tumbling piano notes, Havoc & Bright Lights opens with the invitation to protection and solidarity, “Guardian.”
Her familiar midrange vibrato quivers, offering strength and comfort in whatever life might bring. Demi-orchestral in the way the track builds, producers Guy Sigsworth and Joe Chiccarelli recognize the importance of space in the tempest—and leave room for Morissette’s intense emotionalism to spread out without forcing itself upon the listener.
Even the hushed “’Til You,” an ethereal meditation where the vocal rises weightless, derives potency from allowing the elements to find their own altitude. Still, it’s not all “ommm” and “namaste”; there’s a bit of seething churn as her voice takes on its familiar stridency on “Celebrity,” a unflinching take on what fame is made of. With worldbeats and a dervish feel in the full-thrust portions of the song, when the restraint wells up, the arrangement says as much about the chaotic nature of fame as the lyric.
An old soul as a young woman, life has tempered Morissette’s wisdom. The song titles say it all: “Empathy,” “Lens,” “Spiral,” ”Receive,” even “Edge of Evolution.” A celestial woman in a corporeal world, she seeks divinity amid the disappointments and things that enrage her.
With a taut sonic backdrop, phased vocals and the hard guitar/bass swelling up, the need to jettison what leaves her “Numb” creates an aural template for a lyric that pulls back detachment’s veil. The kudzu of not feeling and knowing it, her discomfort creeps beneath the melody.
Still, Havoc embodies relief, release and refuge. “Win and Win” lulls, suggesting the decision is ours, the vision one to create. Without being florid or cosmic, she beckons to a far more graceful, honest world.