Ranking Alanis Morissette's 'Jagged Little Pill' 20 Years Later
Alanis Morissette didn't release her debut album in 1995 but she may as well have: Jagged Little Pill took the teen pop star who had released two questionable previous records and tore them into jagged little pieces. When the vocalist reared up and roared into the first hook of first single "You Oughta Know," the world took heed. Five singles and 33 million copies sold later and Morissette was known the world over, somewhat ironically (coincidentally) as the voice behind '90s movements such as Lilith Fair (a female-fronted music festival founded by fellow Canadian Sarah McLachlan). Although the vocalist is a rather polite human being, many saw her as an angry performer, sick of sugar-coated lyrics and sugar-coated music in the pop world and—regardless of how true that may or may not be—we're not complaining.
Hang with Music Times as we count down the tracks on Jagged Little Pill from least favorite to vice versa.
12) "Mary Jane"
There's not much to be said for ballads on Jagged Little Pill, although there is much to be said in the shifting attitudes of its star across its 12 tracks. "Mary Jane" might be the only track to qualify as a ballad...reminding us why we prefer Morissette in our face. "Mary Jane," interestingly, doesn't happen to be a marijuana reference at all, but rather a theoretical (hopefully) character suffering from the expectations of society ("I hear you're losing weight again Mary Jane / Do you ever wonder who you're losing it for?). It's also one of only three tracks where the protagonist/victim simply takes life for what it is, instead of speaking up for themselves. Not a good look on this album.
11) "Wake Up"
One of the more ironic things about Morissette's career (that many have pointed out over the years) is that her hit "Ironic" doesn't really live up to the definition of the word. That makes it more ironic still that the song "Wake Up," which never claimed to have a grammatical theme, succeeds in irony where "Ironic" never could: "You like snow but only if it's warm / You like rain but only if it's dry" are the opening bars of the album-closing track. Although the track ultimately plays into the star's take-control-of-your-life approach to the rest of the record, it simply doesn't pack the punch that the rest of these songs hold.
"Perfect" tells the tale of children (there are both male and female protagonists...the only occasion on the album) who struggle to "earn" their parents' love by excelling in their respective endeavors. Looking at a track like this, context is everything: Did Morissette herself struggle with living up to parental standards, like Michael to Joe Jackson? It doesn't seem like it, no. If so, this song might be more touching, more revelatory. As it doesn't, the song takes on a rather clichéd vibe, as we've seen dozens of movies that carry this same plot line.
We don't need to explain the controversy that's surrounded this song for years...although we kind of did two entries ago. Once again, context is key. After all, some have posited the idea that "Ironic" was actually a joke with multiple layers...that Morissette intentionally mangled the use of "irony" as itself an ironic act. Alas, genius as that would be, the vocalist has since denied that theory, simply stating that she wasn't too concerned about Webster's accuracy. Does the songwriting lose points with us because of that? Yes. Does that mean we dislike the song as a whole? No way. Morissette's voice, love it or hate it, makes this album with epic hooks and "Ironic" features one of the strongest of the bunch. Strong enough to merit forgiveness for a vocabulary snafu.
08) "Not The Doctor"
Not much explaining to be done here. Morissette wants to be your significant other, not your drug-of-choice. Although there are certainly no complaints to be made about the songwriting, the vocalist is telling the subject what's wrong with him about as straight-faced as she can, and that means she doesn't need to rely on the emotional bursts that make her best hooks superb. It's the nature of the song.
07) "Right Through You"
"Right Through You" is another song that we struggle to rank because, again, so much depends on what Morissette tells us. On one hand, it could just be a less energetic sequel to "You Oughta Know," where the vocalist badmouths a man who sees her as an easy hookup, or maybe the worker that ignored her questions. The hook ("I see right through you / I know right through you / I feel right through you / I walk right through you") offers two options: Is the performer simply calling out those who have victimized her, or is she intentionally doing so in such a way that she comes across as a hypocrite, as pompous as them for claiming to understand how they tick? Is this another case of, God help us, irony? We can't say for sure but we're one the fence based on her commentary on "Ironic." We'll plant her at no. 7 until Morissette tells us otherwise.
06) "Hand In My Pocket"
We're not going to try and suggest that the verses on this single were trying to be ironic because they aren't and she wasn't trying to be. The not-quite-contradictions just reflect a Morissette who hadn't gotten to 33-times platinum yet and therefore was living more paycheck-to-paycheck than she would a few months later. These verses are the most catchy on the album (if you remember the lyrics) so it's disappointing when we reach the hook. "I've got one hand in my pocket and the other one's_____" leaves almost limitless options for where to go next, yet the vocalist seemingly stumbles across awkward clauses like "giving a high five" and "giving the peace sign." Those ideas aren't necessarily bad but this hook badly needs a follow-up line to go along with the first. So close to perfection.
05) "You Learn"
The most infuriating argument that a Morissette critic can make is that she does nothing but attack men, without ever taking any pf the blame for failed relationships (these people, of course, are the type who ignore the erst of her catalogue aside from "You Oughta Know"). "You Learn" was the big single that would have squashed all of these accusations if the insecure would just listen to the lyrics. "I recommend getting your heart trampled on to anyone" and "I recommend biting off more than you can chew to anyone" are the two most telling lines. The headliner hasn't been trying to play the victim on Jagged Little Pill. Sure, it happened once but for the most part, Morissette is grateful for the bumps and bruises. Without them, she sure would;t have made this record. "You Learn" is curiously down-to-earth in pop music, perhaps the least down-to-earth genre.
Much like "Perfect," a song commenting on one's Catholic upbringing could be great or it could be a tremendous cliché. Morisette's take on the subject is blessedly nuanced, something that other critics of religion (and vice versa) could do well to learn from. Sure, the performer acknowledges her issues with the faith and occasional skepticism, but she never goes as far as to make the issue black-or-white. Her thoughts on the process of Reconciliation ("I confessed my darkest deeds to an envious man / my brothers they never went blind for what they did") is as cleverly-written a segment as there is to be found on this album.
03) "All I Really Want"
The first five of Morrisette's singles all managed to crack the Top 20 of the Hot 100 and have maintained a presence on adult contemporary radio since. Maybe it was that the world had simply had enough of her by the time December 1995 rolled around. Whatever the reason, sixth single "All I Really Want" never grabbed listener attention as the previous five had. That's a shame, because the opener to Jagged Little Pill is also one of the record's best songs. Although it's much more temperate than "You Oughta Know," the track doesn't pull any punches. We're not sure who to thank for the moment where the track goes totally silent before bouncing back but if it was Morissette, all the kudos to her.
02) "Head Over Feet"
If your correspondent had his way, "Head Over Feet" would easily be the no. 1 song on this list, as he considers it among his favorite pop songs of all time and included it in his wedding. This is one of the aforementioned moments on the album where the protagonist is a passive character, but one swept off her feet, not emotionally abused. And again, if critics of "You Oughta Know" were to just listen to this track, they'd realize that Morissette is equally capable of love as she is spite. The song avoids the saccharine tone of most pop music, revealing a protagonist who almost begrudgingly accepts that she's fallen for her "best friend with benefits." How it was held until the fifth single is beyond us.
01) "You Oughta Know"
In terms of influence, it's impossible to argue that any track from Jagged Little Pill-nay, from the entirety of Morissette's career-is better than "You Oughta Know." Dave Coulier actually had the nerve to suggest that the song was written about him...we're not sure that we would actively promote that fact, considering how vicious the star gets on the track. Although most pop radio stations probably came with censored versions circa 1995, we assume that most mothers at the pool (like our own) probably stood there with widened eyes as the voice on the radio demanded of her victim "are you thinking of me as you f*ck her?" One aspect often overlooked because of Morissette's vocal vitriol is the instrumental track to the song, which was performed on the fly by Flea and Dave Navarro (both of the Red Hot Chili Peppers at the time). Listen closely and you'll notice the curious jazz bassline during the verses, evidence of a player more individualistic than your average studio musician.