One thing that makes singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette so endearing is the confessional nature of her music. Each of her records presents an honest snapshot of a different chapter of her life, the emotions of the moment pouring out into each song. Her latest, Havoc and Bright Lights, reveals an Alanis Morissette who is now a wife and mother, in a happier place than most of us have ever seen/heard her.
This presents a bit of a dilemma. Far be it from me to begrudge Morissette her happiness—I’m happy for her, in fact. But here’s the thing—Morissette’s most powerful tunes have historically come out of tension, conflict and raw emotions. Even though as an artist she has crossed genres multiple times, and even though each of her records shows us a different side of her, it’s perhaps an unfortunate fact that most of us retain an embedded image of Alanis Morissette as the angst-driven alt-rocker that sang “Ironic” on Jagged Little Pill. While the cheeriness of Havoc is no doubt an honest reflection of where she is right now, it has a difficult time capturing the same power and emotion as Morissette’s earlier, darker work. In fact, the few times the lyrics turn poignant (as on the feminist ode “Woman Down”), it’s hard to believe her. You can almost picture her trying not to giggle in the studio as she forces a frown to sing the angry lyrics, as if she’s saying, I’m trying to be mad, but I’m just so dang…HAPPY!
I know that sounds terrible, but before any readers get upset at me for saying it, let me say I get where this album is coming from. I’m not one to believe that every record has to be dark and angry, and despite the fact that Morissette’s happy emotions might not play as powerfully as her darker ones, I don’t know what could have been done to change the record—other than perhaps tone down the production a bit (it is a little overproduced as a pop album, and that doesn’t help the cause much). For what it is, I think this is the record Alanis Morissette needed to make at this moment in her life; anything else would have been fabricated and dishonest. It’s just that I have a hard time believing that in the minds of many listeners, a single like “Guardian” (a song celebrating motherhood) will hold up against songs like “Ironic” and “You Oughta Know.” I dunno—perhaps if she’d recorded “Guardian” as a country song…
That being said, the production issues and potentially lackluster content do not change the fact that Morissette is still a stellar musician and artist—and that does come out on the record, despite all that might be working against it. For me, the understated song “Havoc” is by far the shining moment on the record, its piano riffs and melancholy melody reminiscent of “Not As We”—which I personally feel is one of Morissette’s most powerful tunes.
Adding it all up…while Havoc and Bright Lights will not likely stand as a masterwork for Morissette, neither is it a career-buster. It is simply another honest portrait of an ever-evolving artist and human being who happens to be in a good place in her life, and who is letting her music celebrate that fact. This record might not break any records, but long time fans will no doubt celebrate Morissette’s happiness with her.