Guilty Pleasure Friday – Alanis Morissette’s Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie

13 06 2008

I will be the first to admit that this album isn’t for everyone, but I – ashamedly – have loved it since it came out and continue to love it.

Alanis got quite a bit of flack for her sophomore effort. It was complicated, a little too new-agey, and not full of the rage of Jagged Little Pill, the rage that made her famous in “You Oughta Know.”

But I gave Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie a critical listen recently and was still impressed at the quiet moments of brilliance on the album. Morissette can write a lyric, but this album is more like beat poetry set to complex music, which evokes a strange and mysterious mood. She is unconcerned with rhyme and meter in more of the songs; many of them have no hooks and no chorus and most of them weave lyrics that move in and out of various characters’ heads. It’s a bizarre album to be released by someone who, at the time, was arguably one of the best-known female singers.

I think that is what I like so much about this album; sure, she’s not talking about performing oral sex in a movie theater and she’s not as overtly angry, but the entire album is basically a “fuck you” to the record industry and anyone who expected her to make Jagged Little Pill II. How punk rock of her!

So the story goes that after her meteoric rise to fame, Morissette went to India (what else?) and came out on the other side with some doubts about her own position in the world. Okay, it’s a little cliche for my taste, and I can’t really stomach some of the more New Agey philosophies Morissette espouses on the album (“Baba,” about a guru and “Thank U,” the hit single from the album, are both still too much about a vague notion/idea of “spirituality” more at home in a holistic witch doctor’s office than on a rock album), but the writing is absolutely brilliant. Brilliant.

Take a look at “Front Row,” a stream-of-consciousness song about the dizzying highs and lows of a relationship (the chorus is “I’m in the front row / the front row / with popcorn / I get to see you / see you / close up”)

The complex instrumentation here, the Indian instruments adding a rich tapestry of beautiful but intricate music that completely supports the complex story being told. My favorite moment is when she is talking about “30 good reason why we should not be together.” The list she gives her lover is funny. “You smoke. You live in New Jersey,” she smirks. “But the conversation was hypothetical,” she sings, and here, a well-placed, quick breath tells more than any words could, and she continues, “Oh I am totally short of breath for you / Why can’t you shut your stuff off?” That switch is just beautiful; think about the last time you were totally that hot for someone and trying to deny it.

What is particularly interesting about the song is that it pretty much requires you to have the complete lyrics in front of you. Morissette has added lyrics behind the chorus that you can kind of hear, amid the bongo drums and electric guitars, but can’t really hear all of, and they add emotional depth to the song, and remind you – if you are the sort of person I am – of all the crap your brain spews out when you are thinking about or involved in a relationship.

“The Couch” is about Morissette’s father, who was a therapist. She weaves stories of herself, her father, and his patients in second and first person, jumping from character to character. Again, there’s a “world music” kind of flair, but the music is dark, as are many of the stories.

Download The Couch

I walked into his office
I felt so self-conscious on the couch
He was sitting down across from me
He was writing down his hypothesis
I don’t know I’ve got a loving, supporting wife
who doesn’t know how involved she should get
You see his interjecting was just him
calling me on my shit

At the risk of sounding too rah rah self-discovery, this is brave songwriting that lays Morissette open in the most vulnerable way. She gets inside the complicated relationship between patients and their therapists, but against the backdrop of getting inside her own father’s head and writing at the same time about his impressions of her. “Here we are battling similar demons not coincidentally.”

I told you I liked songs with literary lyrics I could sink my teeth into. This is why; because they warrant a thought process much more than “Oooh! Pretty!” and that is Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie’s strength (or weakness, depending on your perspective on really, really complicated music). I have nothing against people who like “Ooooh! Pretty!” music, which is how I classify the recently-reviewed Fleet Foxes album; or Hot Chip; or the Ting Tings. Fun, pretty, good. This album is neither pretty nor fun all the time.

Of course it has its moments. Its biggest weakness is its length, the number of tracks, and its lack of cohesiveness. Songs that would be lovely on another record falter here because they don’t stand up in complexity to songs like the above or “One,” in which Morissette calls herself something that I have often used to describe a certain type of woman, “A sexy treadmill capitalist.” This weakness is apparent on “Unsent,” another single from the album. A lovely, acoustic unsent letter to Morissette’s former lovers, “Unsent” sounds strangely hollow, though it is probably the song on which her voice sounds most traditionally pretty.

It still has that rambling, un-rhymed feeling, but once the strings kick in, it sounds much more like a traditional folk-pop song and less like the rest of the album, which is, actually, my only complaint about the song. Otherwise, it’s funny, self-deprecating, pretty, and interesting.

So, that’s the first guilty pleasure album I’ve done. What do you think?