I managed to have a chance to delve into this seminal banshee EPIC now, and I’m pleased to say that after a bumpy beginning this was as rewarding a listen as it ever was. I’ve been fond of this album since it came out, but even twelve years on it’s not the easiest listen, especially after such a commercial megasmash as Jagged Little Pill. While JLP set out Alanis’s stall as a great songwriter and furious young madam, it was only with this album that she really earned her banshee stripes I think. Anyway enough about all this, there is a LOT to get through… (PS that cover art reminds me of Alien)
09 Front row: I know he’s blood but you can still turn him away you don’t owe him anything … this intro is vividly memorable, I always think of it when I think of this album. Hitting the ground running with this, there’s a lot to take in. I think one of the refreshing things about this album is that she’s not tying herself down to the usual verse-chorus-verse structure, certainly in this track, although she hasn’t lost the fact that you need some sort of a hook. This opposites-attract exchange between her and this guy just seems to SPILL out of her. A great opener.
07 Baba: I thought she’d gone all religious and spiritual for this album (in fact I still feel that a bit), I certainly know she went to India to inspire the album, but this album if anything seems a bit ANTI. Maybe it’s more an attack on people who go to ‘find themselves’ and are just after some instant karma. Just not really sure about it, I’m inclined to think it’s the latter. Anyway a pretty rocky track with occasional choral sections, I find it an intriguing song but not necessarily one of my favourites.
10 Thank U: Oh my, I love this. I remember this coming out when I got my first job, so it’s tied quite vividly to that sort of time. Musically a real goldmine for me as a teen, and very influential on my tastes I think. I always felt this was a bit of an oddity on this album but now I can’t remember why. Commercially it’s a lovely radio hit, and I think it stopped this album being a total catastrophe sales-wise, which could well have changed the course of Alanis history. A lot of bizarre phrases in here (transparent dangling carrots?) and the naked video is asking for attention, but I think it’s a really gorgeous track.
09 Are you still mad: Piano intro is reminiscent of Uninvited, but simple enough not to distract from the opening lyrics about what I presume is fallout from a relationship. Quite a basic rhythm, but there are a few strings that ease into the action, almost easy to miss but they just make me melt every time. There’s something quite hypnotic about it, it’s not something you can just have on in the background, I feel compelled to really listen to the lyrics every time. I know that sounds like a reasonable thing to expect from any song but at least for me it’s easy to just listen to the music and miss the story.
06 Sympathetic Character: More spiky now, probably the most banshee track so far. I don’t know what is missing here that was present in earlier songs but I never quite got on board with this. Musically I do love the rather industrial sound effects that pepper this track, but the vocals are a bit screechy. I bracket this and Are You Still Mad together for whatever reason, and this doesn’t really lead to a favourable comparison.
09 That I would be good: When I was an angsty teen this was MY SONG. Quite stereotypical I guess, used on Dawsons Creek a few times I remember, and all about wanting approval even if you aren’t perfect. It still hits my buttons now as a result, though the effect is lessened now I’m a bitter husk of an adult. It’s a really sweet song and I do still love it, and those strings that come in *dies*. Then that flute bit *weeps*. Just GIVE ME A MOMENT.
10 The couch: Another one I find totally absorbing (absorbent? it’s not kitchen roll). I don’t quite follow whose perspective this is coming from, I’m thinking a number of people are involved in this rather sorry scenario. It’s a strange feel for a song, basically a set of monologues recounted to another mystery listener, but I find it one of the more fascinating tracks on this album. I love the music too, that sort of Asian rhythm with spooky ambient swirls fading in and out, especially the brief instrumental section. I don’t think I’ve quite cracked this song, but I just love it to bits.
06 Can’t not: Clumsy wording ahoy, another track that I find a bit of a struggle to get through (after Sympathetic Character). After all the exciting music going on during this album, it’s a bit of a disappointed to have a pretty bog standard rock slugger like this, even if that middle-8 breaks it up a bit. Struggling to find much to say about this.
06 UR: Can’t they call it You Are? A bit of a boring one, what’s she doing being all happy and nice? That is NOT why I like this album generally speaking. More self-harm, less harmonica please. OK a bit harsh but this feels like an unused track from Jagged little pill and NOT IN A GOOD WAY. Boring.
07 I was hoping: Here we go, spooky monster roaring at the start and another stream of consciousness. Not really getting what’s happening here, I think from the opening few lines that she’s having a fling with a married man, and while he’s a bit of a tosser it’s all very interesting for her. I certainly like how the music builts into the choruses, but the verses are quite hard to follow. After listening several times I still had to look up the lyrics, the delivery is quite difficult. Sort of lands in the middle of the songs here, interesting feeling to it, but there are better on this album.
06 One: A bit more of a traditional feel for a song now, but I find it a bit of a plodder and I find my attention wandering a little during this one. Even with the lyrics I don’t really know what a “sexy treadmill capitalist” is either. Not really feeling this one so much either, there is certainly a decent amount of fat that could have been trimmed off this LENGTHY album.
07 Would not come: Don’t worry, it perks up at the end. Another bit of a clunker for me, that WHYYYYY refrain is a bit of a cringer when it’s repeated so much. I’m not entirely sure what she’s singing about that would not come, fulfilment? I guess the message is that it doesn’t matter what you try and do to make yourself happy, it’s not something that can be forced. Or something like that. Well this song isn’t going to make me fulfilled so it’s probably best to move on.
06 Unsent: OK more straightforward but I really cringe at this one, it’s like a Phoebe Buffay original (only without the humour). Basically some boyfriend time travel going on here, even though I hope the names are made up (Terrence? Lou?). It’s a bit too self indulgent, I can’t see this appealing to a lot of people, and as a song it’s a bit of a plain Jane. It just seems to reinforce the bad Alanis stereotypes for me, which I think is a very bad thing.
08 So pure: Thank fuck, the good album can RESUME after that little quintet of drek. Not really an obvious single but it’s a really upbeat and straightforward track in contrast to the rather psychobabble-tastic tracks we’ve just had. It’s not the most amazing song in the world, not even on this album, but it’s a bit more lighthearted at least and that helps a lot.
09 Joining you: Here we go, back to the good stuff. Totally sucks me in within the first 10 seconds, a rather dark tale of attempted suicide. I can completely imagine the setup for this and Alanis’ role in the song. While dealing with this rather serious subject matter there is still quite a powerful chorus in the mix, where Alanis has a rather interesting approach to talking her friend down. Basically, if things were really as bad as her friend thought they were, then she’d kill herself too, but it’s not. I don’t know, I always found that a strange way to deal with the subject that doesn’t preach much of an anti-suicide message at all. Still a highlight of the album, even if I don’t know exactly why I feel like that.
08 Heart of the house: Home stretch now, and a really quite touching song I presume is about her mother who didn’t make a fuss and just provided support for the family. Admittedly she does lay it on a bit thick but it’s a sweet song, her vocals are quite delicate and the song itself is quite lovely. I’m probably doing it down a bit too much by just saying how pretty it is, maybe if I had that sort of relationship with my mother it would be different, but I don’t so I’ll just appreciate it superficially.
08 Your congratulations: A rather broken-down closing track, much in the way Your House was for the previous album. I haven’t quite decided how this song concludes, Alanis is obviously looking for the approval of someone and got so hellbent on that, that she modified her behaviour to try and get this approval. We don’t know when this was, or whose approval she was after (my bet is young Alanis and her father). The thing is that she doesn’t quite sort out is whether or not she actually GOT the approval that would have made all this worthwhile. Leaves a rather unfinished end to the album, I always thought it was an odd end. I like her rather emotionally raw vocals, especially when she goes into the rather weepy-sounding falsetto.
PHEW, well we got there in the end, hope you are still there. It is a bit offputting to have such a big album, especially in the knowledge that they aren’t exactly going to be the easiest songs. But still, I got through Tori’s albums before now so it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Although I have always been fond of this album I’m not going to pretend it’s all gold in my opinion, and certainly there is a big patch of songs that I really don’t think measure up to some of the rest. I’m sure it’s all part of a rich tapestry etc but I’m not really into them. But the album is still one of my favourites, and certainly up there with the banshee all-timers. In fact I’m a little worried that we are over the best already, but I’m more than happy to be proven wrong.
Keepers for the iPod: Front row, Thank U, Are you still mad, That I would be good, The Couch, Joining you, Heart of the house.