Jagged Little Pill
If I was to approach someone who would be considered the “MTV Generation” and asked them, “Who released the album ‘Now Is the Time’ in 1992?” I doubt anyone would guess the correct artist. If I asked about the album “Space Cases” someone would ask about that random Nickelodeon show starring the original Black Ranger…
…that’s if anyone even remembers that show. Should really look up the show, it was funny.
These are other albums by the incredible Canadian artist Alanis Morissette, who in 1995 released the album “Jagged Little Pill” to the world. The repeating self-images in red, blue, and green on the white background are iconic and at the time, for a woman to come out with such a powerful pro-woman vibe, it was damn near revolutionary.
In 1995, the Billboard music charts had plenty of female representation. TLC had “Waterfalls” and “Creep”. Mariah Carey had “Fantasy”. Melissa Etheridge had “I’m the Only One”. Gloria Estefan had the absolute classic “Turn the Beat Around”. All of these songs were great, but none of them quite packed the punch as “You Oughta Know”.
As “You Oughta Know” isn’t track 1, it’s important because this would be everyone’s true mainstream introduction to Miss Morisette. The song starts with just her voice and snare drum. She’s talking directly to someone and it becomes clear that it’s a recent ex that left her and moved on rather quickly. The words sound like it’s a note of support, but that tone in her voice conveys the point that she's very bitter, for lack of a better word.
“..and are you thinking of me when you fuck her?”
In 1995, I was 12. This was edgy.
This song, and naturally this album, came across very personal. At this time, you only hear these thoughts and feelings being expressed by women that were also being conveyed as “crazy” or “insane” while the guy in the narrative is held as the victim of whatever “crazy or insane” thing the woman was doing, whether or not he was the one that emotionally pushed her to this moment.
I was over at a friend's house the other day and she had the vinyl version of this album. We talked briefly about the impact of the album, so I called her and asked her about what she thought when she first heard it. She was introduced to “You Oughta Know” at the age of 15 and she said, quote, “When I first heard it was like, ‘Why is she so angry?’ and once I was in a relationship, I understood the song.”
A hell of an introduction, wouldn’t you say?
As I mentioned, “You Oughta Know” was the first single, but isn’t the first track and since I’m talking about the album as a whole, it’s only fair I talk about what would be your introduction to the album itself, “All I Really Want”.
As the album starts, it’s guitar and harmonica as the intro as the band jumps in before the lyrics start. “Do I stress you out? My sweater’s on backwards and inside-out and you say, ‘How-ow-ow appropriate.”
These are the first words that you heard from Alanis and it automatically paints a picture of a woman in a “what-the-fuck-ever” kind of mindset. As the song continues, you see this is a song about a woman that is angry, irrational, and completely aware of it. She doesn’t want to be this way and she says, “And all I really want is some patience. A way to calm the angry voice. And all I really want is deliverance.” A later chorus says, “And all I really want is some peace, man. A place to find a common ground.” This acknowledgment of the mental instability brought on by the ending of a relationship was groundbreaking and honest and truly sets the tone for the entire album. Admittedly, this is why I love this album so much. You may not have ever felt this way, but you understand what she’s going through in these songs and you sympathize with her. Again, at a time when she’d be labeled “the crazy one” by society, Morissette takes that label, places it on her own chest, looks society in the eyes and says, “I am crazy. Now what the fuck are you going to do about it?” to which society takes a few steps backwards out of the room, and runs away realizing Alanis has just called its bluff.
Track 3 is entitled “Perfect” and the gist of the song is that you’ll only satisfy others if you’re perfect.
“Sometimes is never quite enough. If you’re flawless, then you’ll win my love” or in the second verse, “How long before you screw it up? How many times do I have to tell you to hurry up?”
When I hear the song, I think of a child trying to live up to a parent’s expectation. I also hear in this song a parent’s abusive nature as they push their child to be the best at whatever they’re doing whether that’s sports or academics. In those cases, as is my experience with stories I’ve seen, the parent is pushing the child to meet the expectations they themselves failed to meet. This is backed up with “I’ll live you, I’ll make you what I never was. If you’re the best then maybe so am I compared to him, compared to her.” It’s a short song, but it’s a powerful message with the imagery.
Now, before I continue, just know, I’m not going to go track-by-track, but this album is so important because of the honesty in the lyrics. People feel this way. When a child feels this, it negatively impacts all future relationships both personal and professional.
I’m moving into my two favorite tracks, “Right Through You” and “Forgiven”. They both have different energies and they are the core of why I love this album. “Right Through You” is about how the subject sees right through the man that is with her, but not ‘with her’, if that makes sense.
“You took me for a joke. You took me for a child”
He didn’t seemingly appreciate her, but at the end of the song, she’s successful and he’s looking for his name to take credit and “wonders why it’s not there”. Why? “I see right through you. I know right through you. I feel right through you. I walk right through you.”
“Forgiven” has a whole new vibe. There’s no drums in the opening of this song and you hear acoustic guitar. Full music kicks in after a bit, for the rest of verse 1 and the chorus and it cuts out for the start of the second verse. The theme seems to imply a dark tint to a Catholic upbringing.
“You know how us Catholic girls can be. We make up for so much time a little too late. I never forgot it, confusing as it was. No fun with no guilt feelings.” and later, “My brothers, they never went blind for what they did, but I may as well have. In the name of the father, the skeptic, and the son.”
This feels, as much of this album does, like a reflection upon a very troubled and difficult childhood and early adulthood. The music chosen to accompany the lyrics of these and all the songs, comes across flawlessly as a way to bring home the point of, “This was fucked up. I’m fucked up, but I’m okay.”
As deep as these songs can be, the album never feels depressing. Songs like “Hand in My Pocket” really seem to break down like an adult that doesn’t have everything they once thought they should have by this point in their lives, but this doesn’t mean their life is bad.
“I’m broke, but I’m happy. I’m poor, but I’m kind. I’m short, but I’m healthy.” Later, “I care, but I’m restless. I’m here, but I’m really gone. I’m wrong and I’m sorry, baby” Later still, “And what it all boils down to is that no one’s really got it figured out just yet.”
At age 12, none of that really clicked, but at 38, it’s everything. I know that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes. To know it’s okay to not be where you thought you should be. To know that it’s perfectly fine for things to not be perfect.
And then there’s “Ironic”.
Probably one of the most popular songs on this album, it’s a catchy tune that’s easy to sing along with. People today, myself included, would still belt out the chorus at the top of their lungs.
“It’s like rain on your wedding day. It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid. It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take. And who would have thought, ‘It figures’”
Some people argue that examples in the song are not actually ironic. The old man dying the day after winning the lottery. The pardon from death row that comes a mire two minutes after the execution. The dictionary defines “ironic” as: (1) using or characterized by irony. (2) happening in the opposite way to what is expected, and typically causing wry amusement because of this. They supply this example sentence - “It was ironic that now that everyone had plenty of money for food, they couldn’t obtain it because everything was rationed.”
I say the song fits. Most of the time.
Songs like this are just fun. It’s not really personal like many of the others, but it’s still an insight to how Alanis views the world around her.
There are many other songs that one should listen to. In fact, this is one of the sit down and listen from start to finish type of albums. Though I haven’t covered all of them, I think I’ve given enough to make the point about what I love about this album. It’s raw, it’s honest, it’s real, and it’s musically satisfying. The music changes enough to not only fit the different vibes of the different songs, but you’re not just hit with 13 tracks of the same thing.
Speaking of the same thing, as you’re looking at the cover, you’ll see 12 tracks listed. You’ll put your CD in the player and it’ll register 13. As track 12 ends, you’ll hear “You Oughta Know” play on track 13. This isn’t a remix or some bonus version of the song. It’s the exact same as track 2 - only the track is longer.
The song isn’t longer. The track is longer.
Once the song ends, you have about 60 seconds of silence before the acapella song “Your House” begins.
As much as I’ve defended the character of Alanis as she’s portrayed in this musical work and exists in these songs, the character in “Your House” is definitely working with a few emotional marbles missing.
“I went to your house. I walked up the stairs. I opened your door without ringing the bell. I walked down the hall into your room where I could smell you, and I shouldn’t be here, without permission, I shouldn’t be here.” Later, “I took off my clothes, put on your robe. I went through your drawers and I found your cologne.”
Long and short of it, she breaks into her ex’s house and gets really creepy. While it’s really creepy, which isn’t the personality of the Alanis character, you can still hear the pain she’s feeling as she asks, “Would you forgive me, Love, if I danced in your shower? Would you forgive me, Love, if I laid in your bed? Would you forgive me, Love, if I stayed all afternoon?” Alanis is hurting and the cut is DEEP. Again, not something you heard of saw at this time without them being carted off in a white jacket with really long sleeves.
As an adult, I can understand that level of pain. I’ve felt it. I’ve been this Alanis before. The different array of feelings after the end of a significant relationship is just like this. Happy, angry, confused, depressed, desperate - all of that and so much more. “Jagged Little Pill” conveys this so perfectly that it’s no surprise that such a powerful album would grow with someone from the period of their life when it’s just funny and edgy to the point where you are comparing experiences.
If you’ve somehow never heard it, this is your call to find it and listen to it.