Although she began her musical career with a couple of pop albums that were successful in her native Canada, Alanis Morissette is perhaps most well known for simply being irate. Her seminal third album Jagged Little Pill tapped perfectly into female frustration and angst and sold over 33 million copies under the umbrella of Madonna‘s Maverick record label. The release has even been re-recorded as an acoustic version and recently been turned into a stage musical.
With such universal appeal, however, comes great expectation, and her verbose and personal subsequent efforts have never matched the success or intrigue of that juggernaut, leading to her being cruelly undervalued since the mid-’90s.
Such Pretty Forks In The Road is Morissette’s first studio album in eight years and has been three years in the making. Precursed by the single Reasons I Drink in 2019, this merry, yet sanguine little number is like listening to Lily Allen belt out one of her slaps on the Broadway stage as she details the reasons people turn to substance abuse, and pleads for understanding.
The album opens with Smiling, evoking Radiohead, but this is really vintage Alanis, mournful guitars, lofty lyrics and beautifully crestfallen vocals. Ablaze is a gorgeous and heart-wrenching ode to her children, awash with personal lyrics and cascading vocals, underpinned by subtle guitar-strumming and sweeping drums. Morissette outlines struggling with postpartum depression on the visceral and devastating Diagnosis. The powerful lyrical storytelling is buttressed by stark piano, sombre violins and a forlorn, yet knowing vocal. This is one of the tracks produced by Alex Hope (Troye Sivan and Carly Rae Jepsen), and Catherine Marks (Foals, Wolf Alice) assists on the Keane-like anthemic Sandbox Love and the haunting Tori Amos-esque Reckoning, which sees the patriarchy unravelling, and the first of her on-the-record swipes at her former business manager Jonathan Schwatz, who was jailed for stealing more than five million dollars from her.
The album’s blueprint is predominantly guitar and piano driven rock, yet the rocky shimmer, say, of Losing The Plot is in stark contrast to the desolate Her. The album’s highlight is Nemesis, a departure which thrusts dark drums into a trance-adjacent track depicting dealing with an unplanned pregnancy before weaving into a backdrop not dissimilar to Shakira‘s Whatever, Wherever! Throughout, Morissette’s voice is revealed to have matured beautifully, both rich and enveloping.
The album closes with the cinematic and powerful Pedestal, which could be another swipe at those who stole from her, but also unravels her own insecurities about finally being found out to be a fraud by a lover. Lyrically this harks back to the jaded and assertive Right Through You from Jagged Little Pill, yet the sound is both abrasive and eloquent.
Alanis Morissette has long been a rarity among her peers, more than willing to address significant, yet unsettling subject matter. Such Pretty Forks In The Road is a case in point, with inspiring lyrical touches and affecting vocal sincerity placing it among her best albums.