June 1, 2008
Review: Alanis Morissette's Flavors Of Entanglement
Every once in awhile an album takes you by complete surprise. You hear it and become obsessed; the music seems to have arrived exactly when you needed it. WHO KNEW that Alanis Morissette's Flavors Of Entanglement would be one of those albums?
I've only been a bystander of the "being" that is Alanis. Flavors is an unexpected renewal of her artistry and her chart potential. If the album is not successful - the odds are against it - it will not be for lack of effort. She has written her best melodies (always a strength) and pushed herself into a new sonic territory by choosing to collaborate with Frou Frou's Guy Sigsworth.
Flavors is a breakup album. It present the full arc of the end of a relationship: anger (Straitjacket, the Frou Frou-ish Versions Of Violence), sadness (delicate piano ballad Not As We), melancholy (Torch) and hopefulness (Incomplete) Love is rarely logical: Alanis contradicts herself about her ex (hmm, who is it? ), one minute decrying him and the next crying over what's been lost.
Torch may be the most shattering song Alanis has ever done. It's either perfect for someone who has just ended a love affair... or it's the perfect death. The images are so intimate and realistic ("Miss your take on anything and the music you would play. Miss cracking up and wrestling. Our debriefs at end of day") that it doesn't matter that she's employed her old "list" trick on the lyric.
This is not to say the new agey, therapy-obsessed Alanis is not present. The anthemic single Underneath has some of the most arcane lyrics of the year: "Spotlight on these seeds of simpler reasons / Score bourne into form, stretching my limit." Opener Citizen Of The Planet is a herky jerky mess, but it has some interesting Indian strings mixed in with the cheesy rock guitar.
Pop nirvana is achieved however on Giggling Again For No Reason. Smooth, elegant synths open and close the track, which has crystalline vocals and a dancebeat. Alanis has never sounded so pure. In Praise Of The Vulnerable Man (another "Alanissy" title) sways blissfully along like a 21st century Carly Simon hit.
Guy Sigsworth, who always produces the kind of music I'd like to make, creates a blanket of sound for Alanis. He wraps her in beautiful moments: the lovely ooohs that conclude Tapes (in which she sings sadly, "I'm too exhausting to be loved"), the pure vocals during the bridge on Versions Of Violence (at 2:23). In fact, the vocals on the album are less affected than ever.
The uplifting album closer Incomplete reminds me of Buffy The Vampire Slayer talking about how she's a cookie that needs to bake a little longer. This is Alanis's wishlist for what she'll be in the future: "One day I'll be secure like the women I see on their 30th anniversaries." It's a sweet conclusion, but we know the truth and so does Alanis: it's nearly impossible to feel "complete." And when you do, will you have anything left to say?
Be sure to buy the Deluxe edition (here or here), which has 5 more tracks, most album worthy. iTunes bonus It's A Bitch To Grow Up is also very strong. Clearly, this is an unexpected imperial time for Alanis.