Alanis Morissette - Havoc and Bright Lights
"I feel smothered and encumbered and defeated and drawn." Poor lamb. Her first studio album in four years, Alanis Morissette returns to music following time spent onstage, onscreen and popping out her first child; this latter development means a fair few songs on Havoc and Bright Lights are upbeat and positive but, as that lyric above suggests, Morissette often reverts to the angsty 'self-help' wordiness that defined much of her work from Jagged Little Pill onwards. Which would be okay to look past if she'd brought some killer tunes, a 'Thank U' or 'You Learn' for us to sing along to loudly in the car - as Alanis herself did in the video to the iconic 'Ironic'. However, despite really trying to root for this album, it ultimately goes the way of many of her contemporaries' later works (Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, etc.) by failing to recapture the same spirit and vitality that earlier albums achieved.
Although the guitars that carry the single 'Guardian' are a little bit Feeder, it's a solid lead-in if unremarkable - and so therefore a good representation of the album overall.No matter how loud the guitars are, you can't deny the softer edge to the production which isn't helped by Morissette's assertion that motherhood is "the greatest honour of all"; it may well be up there, but remember when you went down on us in a theatre? That chick wouldn't have stood for such saccharine statements. However, attempts to reclaim the sweeping dramatic sound of 'Uninvited' show that even attempts to ride on past successes fall short, mainly due to the length of time that has passed; both 'Numb' and 'Celebrity', a clunky critique of the shallow VIP lifestyle, sound like Evanescence and suggest Morissette has left it too long to return to this kind of territory.
Despite a good number of tracks failing to make much of an impression, crossing into the bland pastures of 'adult contemporary', I'm glad to report that Havoc... does have its moments, namely the well-considered sort-of title song 'Havoc', a piano ballad that services Morissette's inarguably distinctive voice well. They may be cliched and pure drivetime, but 'Spiral' and 'Receive' boast the type of catchy choruses that Katy Perry has been trying to perfect since before she was kissing girls and liking it too. So, be glad that she still knows how to peddle out a sturdy piece of radio-friendly pop-rock, but despair at 'Woman Down' bludgeoning its promising 'So Pure'-esque dance tip by "calling all woman haters" to answer for their misogyny. Album closer 'Magical Child', which packs the electrics away in favour of some sparser, interesting instrumentation, is much less heavy-handed and much more agreeable as a result.
By this point though, with the album clocking it at over an hour, Morissette's chance to reassert some relevance in today's overcrowded market has, I suspect, amounted to less than anyone but the most dedicated fan will be content with. In stark contrast to the recent Fiona Apple album, which showcased a fellow 90s female singer/songwriter making some bold moves, this is just much too safe. Where's the promised havoc?