Published on September 14th, 2012 | by Phoenix0
Alanis Morissette’s Latest Offering a Split Decision
If you ever reflect on Alanis Morissette’s career, you may find yourself wondering, “What have I done with my life?” Alanis has accomplished the impressive feat of releasing eight albums before her 40th birthday, which hopefully means a lot more music from her is in store. When you think of Alanis, the first thing that probably comes to mind is the angst-ridden song “You Oughta Know” from her major-label debut Jagged Little Pill (JLP). Havoc and Bright Lights has a much different flavor, reflecting a more grown-up and mature Morissette. She has been evolving in this direction since JLP, while her songwriting has remained solid and introspective.
Lyrics have always been Morissette’s major strength, and that shows on Havoc. “Guardian,” the lead single, is a song that can be interpreted in many ways. The song describes a relationship between someone and another person charged with protecting and nurturing them. While the lyrics seem to most clearly describe the parent-child relationship, the lyrics could also reflect the relationship between a person and God, two friends, or others. Morissette said in a video on her website that the lyrics speak not only of her guardianship over her newborn son, but also between her inner parent and inner child (for her part, she has always been very open about explaining the inspiration behind her lyrics, which I admire). Other good lyrical moments include “Lens,” where Morissette describes two people who let petty disagreements divide them, but later realize they have more in common than they think (“And this stance keeps us locked in biophilias/And this lie remains about us being separate.”). “Win and Win” is also interesting, describing how happy the main character is in a relationship that feels equal and two-sided.
I also found the album’s title interesting. The phrase Havoc and Bright Lights seems to suggest that you can fit the songs on the album into two camps: those talking about havoc and negative things (“Havoc,” “Spiral,” “Woman Down,” and “Receive”), and those talking about bright lights, whether they be the bright lights of pressure (“Celebrity,” and “Numb”) or a warm, sunlight-drenched feeling (the remainder of the tracks).
Musically, however, the album is weaker. Producer Guy Sigsworth produced both this album and Morissette’s previous album Flavors of Entanglement. Sigsworth is known for his interesting uses of synthesized sounds; after all, he did form the duo Frou Frou with Imogen Heap, the modern-day queen of synthesized beats. Morissette has also shown a willingness to think outside of the box, to which one if her past records, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, can attest. Compared with Flavors, however, Sigsworth and Morissette try a little too hard to be weird and creative on Havoc, which results in songs like “Celebrity,” which are for the most part unsuited to the timbre and character of Morissette’s voice. “Woman Down” and “Numb” also suffer from the same problem. However, by the time they get to “Edge of Evolution,” they seem to have figured out the right way to use these sounds.
When Sigsworth and Morissette back off the synthesizer, the resulting music sometimes sounds a little bland, such as in “‘Til You” and “Win and Win.” However, there are some musical highlights. “Guardian” features a perfect blend of soulful piano and rousing guitar, and the slow and reflective tone of “Havoc,” the title track, jibes well with its lyrics, which reflect the main character coming to a dramatic realization.
Overall, Havoc is not Morissette’s best album, but is not her worst either. Hardcore fans of hers should definitely check it out, and probably will not be disappointed for the most part. The album succeeds in lyrical delivery and fails primarily when Sigsworth steps on Morissette’s toes or they try to be a little too mellow. For more casual fans of hers, I would suggest downloading “Guardian,” as it appears to be the only truly timeless track on the album. Overall, I’d give it a 5/10.