Release Date: Aug 28, 2012
Record label: Columbia
Alanis Morissette recently gave birth to her first child, so her seventh LP brings the mama drama. "I wake up and first thing's first/I'm of service," she sings, like the Mother Teresa of diaper duty. She paints her mind-nursery in bright colors as she ponders what matters ("Empathy") and what doesn't ("Celebrity"). Listen to "Woman Down": .
When barely post-adolescent Alanis Morissette exploded spewing vitrol and bodily fluids with her raging accusation of the spurned, “You Oughta Know” from the mega-hit Jagged Little Pill, her righteous fury eclipsed everything else about her music. A Canadian child, Morissette’s debut landed on the back of MTV’s hair metal; using producer Glen Ballard’s thrust to add punch to insightful lyrics and trippy melodies, she become the steroidal Joni Mitchell for a new generation. Yet, Morissette was never about fame.
On Alanis Morissette’s first release since ending her 13-year tenure with Maverick Records, the singer-songwriter (and sometimes actress) teamed up with co-producers Guy Sigsworth and Joe Chiccarelli on Havoc and Bright Lights with winning results. Obviously, being freed from the restrictions of a long-term recording contract has propelled Morissette into a euphoric ataraxia, which comes through loud and clear throughout the 52-minute set. The former queen of pain is now a devoted wife and mother, but that doesn’t stop Morissette from intermittently cranking up the fuzz of electric guitar when necessary, most notably on the crunchy and chaotic “Numb” and lead-off single “Guardian” (easily her most melodic tune in years).
Rebounding from the breakup record of 2008's Flavors of Entanglement, Alanis Morissette is in a sunny mood on Havoc and Bright Lights, her first album in four years and first she's released since leaving her longtime home at Maverick Records. A new home suggests it's time for a rebirth and Havoc and Bright Lights certainly fits the bill, Morissette exuding a quiet bliss as a happy newlywed and mother, a sensibility that's tempered somewhat by Alanis also embracing her role as an elder statesman, hectoring all those young folk eager to become a "tattooed sexy dancing monkey" so they can become a "Celebrity. " Such mild condescension doesn't surface all that often, probably because Morissette is in an unusually benevolent mood, settling into her happiness without raising a single doubt or misgiving.
As much as you may want to deny it, Alanis Morissette, with all of her gusto and theatre-driven fellatio, ushered in a mainstream wave of vocal and unapologetic female singer-songwriters. Sure, the venue was ripe for someone like Morissette to come along and be adored by the masses, and you could argue that Courtney Love was angrier, Tori Amos more raw and poetic, PJ Harvey more insane, Björk more creative, or Sarah McLachlan was more lovelorn, but it was this ex-Canadian pop songstress who seemingly shocked an entire population with unabashed confessions and raw intensity. And now, she has a life-long career for as long as she wants it.
Alanis Morissette’s trademark songwriting idiosyncrasies are very deliberately scaled back on Havoc and Bright Lights, the singer-songwriter’s first album in four years. There are still a few instances of garbled syntax (the couplet, “This woman’s neuroses a desperate plea/For slack to be cut to me,” on “Spiral,” is indefensible), but, in a marked change, she relies more often on simple, declarative statements that actually fit the meter of her songs. But while both the album’s lead single, “Guardian,” and the standout ballad “Empathy” boast lyrical hooks that are as plainspoken and genuinely lovely as anything she’s ever written, the increased clarity of her lyrics also places some of her most granola ideas front and center, as when she sings, “I give big/I give all/And now it’s time to regenerate,” on “Receive.
Alanis Morissette, now on album number eight, appears to be very happy and very into motherhood. Which is great for her, but less great for her music. When unavoidably held up to her own high water mark of a monster 1995 album – the savage, sexy, scornful Jagged Little Pill – this latest sounds woefully hobbled by tender feelings. There's a lone belter in the anthemic, power chord-heavy Guardian, but for the most part these songs are entirely lacking in bite, dragging through limp soft rock and even softer sentiments and reaching their nadir in the execrably squishy ballad Til You.
Review Summary: Worse than rain on your wedding dayTowards the end of the track “Celebrity”, Morissette appears to claim that she is “a tattooed, sexy, dancing monkey.” The lyric is indicative of just what is wrong with Havoc and Bright Lights. The angry, scorned young woman of Jagged Little Pill has finally given way to a confused, insipid and self-obsessed harpy. “Celebrity”, probably established as a wry aside at the nature of fame, is far more anonymous and plain than its intended targets.
Fewer than 30 seconds have passed before Alanis Morissette switches to gargle mode. Maybe this record would be improved if she sang without a gob full of Listerine, but we very much doubt it. ‘Havoc And Bright Lights’ (eugh) is further evidence that music is one of the few professions, alongside football and lap-dancing, in which you are likely to get worse, not better, as time goes on.
Morissette’s mellower these days, but her music still packs potency. Nick Levine 2012 The key to enjoying a new Alanis Morissette album is accepting that she'll never make another Jagged Little Pill. That 12-song therapy session has sold over 33 million copies since 1995, and was a decade-defining record. When Morissette recorded it, she was a frustrated 20-year-old fuelled by a destructive relationship with a man she labelled "Mr Duplicity".