Album: Alanis Morissette – “MTV Unplugged” (1999)

Although it feels like I’ve done most of Alanis’ material, I still have quite a lot to get through after the studio albums. Today I’m going to cover the MTV Unplugged album, and soon I’ll do both the Acoustic release of Jagged Little Pill and due to POPULAR DEMAND (I was doing it anyway) Feast on Scraps.

*deep breath* – I will only do the usual rating stuff for new songs I haven’t encountered before, incidentally. Y’all know how I feel about the other songs anyway, so I thought it was a bit pointless. Well you’ll see anyway.

Well here is the 1999 live album, which I remember enjoying extensively at the turn of the century on my Sony Discman (how modern!). I’ve never been that fussed with live albums, but at the time this was a nice antidote to the enjoyable but spiky SFIJ album the previous year. It’s a great selection of tracks from SFIJ and JLP, with a handful of new songs added. Something about it all just works brilliantly for me, and I enjoy this as regularly as the studio albums that spawned it. I’ll go over the new tracks now (apart from These R The Thoughts and Uninvited, the studio versions of which I’ll do next time). PS doesn’t her talking voice sound like a bit like Kermit the Frog?

08 No pressure over cappuccino – I’m a bit HMM about some of the lyrics here, though I did like the (perhaps) unwitting reference to being a 90s Jesus, given Alanis’s role as God in 1999 movie Dogma. It’s a pleasant listen but I would struggle to give it much more than that. The arrangement is gorgeous, as it is for the album as a whole. I’ve read that this is about her gay twin brother, but don’t know if that’s true. It’s a nice song really, about not fitting to society’s stereotypes and things like that. I love her high notes too, she really has a lovely voice when she chills out.

07 Princes Familiar – I don’t know what it is about this album, while I don’t think of any of the new tracks as hitting the heights of her best work, but the arrangements are warm and pleasant without being bland in any way. I must say I don’t really know what this about, my guess is something about her wishes for a dream man (not like those bastards scratching their nails down someone elses back). The melody is quite unusual and memorable, and I love that middle-8 sort of thing about halfway through.

08 King of pain – I had no idea about this song before, but I gather it’s a Police cover. It’s a very acoustic intro with really vivid imagery in the lyrics, making this song the one I always used to remember. I don’t get what it’s about, but there’s some rather bleak subject matter, I guess the world is just a terrible place really isn’t it? I can’t speak for the original but it suits her voice and fits in nicely with the rest of the album.

As for the rest of the album, well I’ve made it quite plain how I feel. The arrangements are quite different to the original so it really gives fresh feel to well-worn hits from Jagged Little Pill, and a more accessible look at some of the less commercial moments from SFIJ. The selection feels like a bit of a compromise actually, the hits from JLP give the album star power, but where is Thank U? The selections from SFIJ are great but this is certainly not like a live Greatest Hits-to-date album.

The JLP tracks all do well from the unplugged treatment, particularly Head over Feet and You Oughta Know (which brings the house down). The latter really gains a new dimension from the unplugged treatment, the impact is more from the emotion she puts in than the lyrics that elevated the studio version so masterfully.

The three SFIJ tracks (seriously though, what about Thank U?) are good picks from a diverse album. That I would be good loses none of its heartbreak and personal resonance (that recorder (?) bit still gives me tingles). Joining you doesn’t change a lot but it’s a pretty devastating one to start with. I Was Hoping benefits just from being easier to hear the lyrics, but the acoustic version just gives a bit more depth to it somehow. Much as I loved SFIJ’s texture, sometimes the production did distract a little from the content.

Uninvited is perhaps one of her most famous tracks, so I will talk about that later, but it really is made for the lavish production given to it here, so I give full marks there. These R the thoughts is perhaps one of my favourite of the new tracks, just an unhinged feel to it with trademark disjointed delivery that barely bothers to fit the words to the beats. I love the layers of strings that fade in during the course of the song, and the drums near the end, how lovely.

Did we know this was her biggest selling album in Brazil?? Bonkers… anyway a very worthwhile collection, and I would recommend it to anyone who (like me) is reluctant to try live albums as a rule. I do wonder if it would ever be as good as this with songs from her later albums, but that’s by the by.

Keepers for the iPod: Joining you, No pressure over cappuccino, That I would be good, Head over feet, I was hoping, Princes Familiar, These r the thoughts, You oughta know, Uninvited (that’s rather a lot!)


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