The 1990s Project: Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill”

The 1990s Project: Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill”

I knew this day would come eventually, so I thought I might as well get it over with sooner rather than later. No survey of popular music in the 90s could omit a stop at the altar of God—that is, Alanis Morissette, who played God in Kevin Smith’s Dogma (1999) four years after releasing Jagged Little Pill, the album that made her the best-selling female rocker of all time.

When writing about Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville, I noted that the 90s were distinguished as an exceptionally good decade for women in music. I suppose that objectively, you’d have to count Jagged Little Pill as another piece of evidence in favor of that judgment. It’s a big, bloozy pop pancake of an album, but Morissette certainly has something to say, and even if it’s tedious and overblown, it’s somewhat more substantive than whether or not she’d kick to the curb boys who don’t look like Mick Jagger.

Jagged Little Pill is only somewhat jagged, and “little” only in comparison to the massive iceberg of flamethrower-voiced 90s women—Melissa Etheridge, Joan Osborne, Four Non Blondes—atop which this disc sits. The influence of indie artists like Ani DiFranco and Tori Amos is clear, but Jagged Little Pill was produced and co-written by the radio-savvy Glen Ballard—veteran of sessions with artists from Michael Jackson to Paula Abdul, and architect of Wilson Phillips’s sound—so the choruses swing like sledgehammers, and hit about as bluntly.

This album meant a lot to a lot of people; I was not and am not one of them, but it was never really meant for me. I appreciate that Morissette just came right out and sang about giving Dave Coulier head—that takes a special kind of courage—and I can forgive her for the fact that, as has been widely observed, the album’s catchiest track is based on a mistaken definition of the word “ironic.” I just don’t find this to be a pleasant listening experience.

Now 36, Morissette has kept more or less steadily at it with music and acting—she was a child star on Nickelodeon before she was a Top 40 troubadour—but her claim to distinction as a music artist still pretty much begins and ends with Jagged Little Pill. In 2005 she released a tenth-anniversary acoustic remake of the album, and the fact that “tenth-anniversary acoustic remake” sounded like a good idea demonstrates just what a child of the 90s she really is.

But hey, she sold almost 400,000 copies of that sucker at Starbucks alone—and now she’s married to a guy named MC Souleye, with a new baby to wheel around for the paparazzi’s enjoyment. The last paragraph of her Wikipedia bio reads, in its entirety, “Morissette is a vegan.”

As for me, though I love a lot of the outspoken younger artists to whom Morissette was an inspiration—Tegan and Sara, Kate Nash, Jenny Lewis—if given the choice, I’d take “Tik Tok” over “You Oughta Know” any day. Isn’t it ironic?

Jay Gabler

The 1990s Project is my attempt to give the decade’s music a fair shot at disproving my offhand assessment that the 90s were the armpit of modern musical history. The project started on my Tumblr, and has now moved to The Tangential. My goal is to visit, or revisit, 100 of the decade’s most acclaimed, popular, and/or interesting albums. Here are the albums I’ve written about so far.

1. Radiohead, OK Computer (1997)
2. My Bloody Valentine, Loveless (1991)
3. The Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin (1999)
4. Moonshake, Eva Luna (1992)
5. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)
6. Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville (1993)
7. Erykah Badu, Baduizm (1997)
8. Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998)
9. Fugazi, Red Machine (1995)
10. Matthew Sweet, 100% Fun (1995)
11. Pavement, Slanted and Enchanted (1992)
12. The Bodyguard soundtrack (1992)
13. Marcy Playground, Marcy Playground (1997)
14. 10,000 Maniacs, Our Time in Eden (1992)
15. Shania Twain, Come On Over (1997)
16. Dr. Dre, The Chronic (1992)
17. #1 singles of 1990
18. DJ Shadow, Endtroducing….. (1996)