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.


Anonymous said...

YES! thanks for the review. I've been on the Alanis Train since day two, (I could have lived my life without "You Outta Know", but with "Hand In My Pocket" I was hooked.)
Plus we are the same age and she really captures that age perfectly with each release, this one included. It's brilliant. A good re-sequence is necessary - I'll blog about that later this week.
So glad this CD was 'one of those albums' for you. I love 'those albums' too.

I too feel like if I were to make music it would be Guy Sig music - for sure.

duanemoody.com said...

I remember trying to talk people into Alanis way back before You Outta Know even hit the radio... eventually, they all subsided. I am thrilled to hear this new record is good, because I have been waiting to DL it... now I will get it right away!!!

Thanks again, XO! You rule!

DanProject76 said...

I have now pre-ordered the special edition. Excellent, your review made me want it!

How odd that the iTunes-only track is absolutely fantastic and one of the best songs.

babs said...

Actually, one of my fav. Alanis songs is the very random "So Pure" from Supposed Infatuation Junkie.
I also like "Hands Clean" and the video is good too, though I always wonder who the bleep she's talking about. And bonus for use of Chris Sarandon in an appropriate role for him.

Anonymous said...

I've been excited about this album ever since I heard that Guy Sigsworth was producing. I'm a BIG fan of his work and I was looking forward to him putting some gentle brakes on Alanis' lyrical chaos and
helping her achieve her best. When I read your review I got even more excited. Anyway, my copy has finally arrived today and I'm just starting my second run through... Every album since Jagged has left me trying to love it as much as I loved Jagged. But this one's different. You are right. It's gonna be one of THOSE albums. Enjoy! I love your blog by the way. It has become essential reading.

xolondon said...

Thanks so much Anon. Re Alanis, it seems like a confluence of events inspired her to really nail it this time. I don't expect that radio will get it, but I think it will renew interest among fans and bring in some sideliners.

Sam Ross said...

i'd like to make a case for SPFJ as an incredibly underrated album. it's raw and dark and filled with hooks. it's personal but not self absorbed. she's at the height of her lyrical capabilities as well--the list thing works well on tracks like "would not come" and "are you still mad", the stream of consciousness thing works on "the couch" and "i was hoping" (best line: "it was a day when i would have said something like: hey dude, i could buy and sell this place so kiss it, i too once thought i was owed something").

DanProject76 said...

Special edition arrived today and I like the 2nd disc as much as the 1st. How odd, they had lots of very very good tracks!

Missing the lovely It's A Bitch To Grow Up but I have that separatley anyway (still bugs me it;s not all together) and that 20/20 song I acquired. Now where does that one come from?

Well done Alan(is)!

Anonymous said...

I truly love this album. Congratulations to the whole team! Alanis is Alanis(hooray)and offers so much more of herself in this. Guy Sigsworth and Andy Page prove to be a WICKED team in producing this and making it something of true art. This album has a depth and sophistication that surpasses anything out there at the moment. We do expect a lot from Ms Morisette... many were nervous to listen to the album. They really wanted her to succeed. So on listening to it, once I'd gotten over the initial shock of the sheer mass of sound I realised that this is a truer Alanis than we've heard before. Guy and Andy support her in an exciting and integrous way, taking us on a roller coaster of perfectly placed dips and peaks. Andy - your guitars and vocal production are truly inspired. The intracy in this is amazing. I encourage everyone to listen to this hunched up between your speakers alone. Madness, Citizen of the Planet, Moratorium and Limbo No More especially made me sit up and take notice. This is what I want from Älanis - expressive, memorable stories and Flavors has taken her to a whole new level.