Judging by many of the tracks on Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, the follow-up to Alanis Morissette’s breakthrough 1995 album Jagged Little Pill, the singer was clearly trying to negotiate the pressure of having sold 16 million albums. It took over three years for Morissette to produce the album, and though it finds her grappling with the industry expectations that were dumped on her in the time since she had exploded onto the music map as Angry White Female with the hit “You Oughta Know,” the album reflects a more grounded, if not calmer, side of the superstar. Having taken refuge in India (among other places) prior to writing and recording the album, Morissette returned with a renewed sense of self, new spiritual wisdom and an innocence that renders what could have sounded pedantic or preachy, quite simply, resonating. Even if her truths aren’t yours, you can’t help but acknowledge the fact that this is a woman who has experienced, who has learned, and who has something profound to share.
That’s not to say Morissette isn’t angry anymore. Part of her evolution as a musician and individual is recognizing and accepting her own imperfections. Whether she’s chiding a false guru on “Baba” or a self-righteous lover on “Are You Still Mad,” Morissette is nothing short of contemptuous (“Are you still mad that I gave up long before you did?/Of course you are,” she sneers). “I Was Hoping,” a stream-of-consciousness work of sheer brilliance that could go on long after its three-and-a-half minutes and still be engaging, finds Morissette embracing her anger, the emotion she seemed to be embroiled in a personal battle with on Pill: when confronted with her own pride at a restaurant where her fame goes unrecognized, she says, “I too once thought I was owed something.” “Would Not Come” finds Morissette in search of “It” (Happiness? Enlightenment? God? All of the above?) in the midst of fame, fortune and pleasure, while “One,” which provides her answer, displays both unapologetic self-awareness and a sardonic analysis of the absurdity of celebrity: “I’ve gotten candy for my self-interest/The sexy treadmill capitalist/Heaven forbid I be criticized/Heaven forbid I be ignored.” Even Morissette’s methods of saving a suicidal friend on “Joining You” are given an alternative/metaphysical slant: we are not our bodies, our successes or failures, she tells him. “If we were,” she says, “I’d be joining you.” She doesn’t predictably tell her friend that “life is worth living,” she tells him that it’s simply all an illusion—one that’s not worth dying for.
Morissette re-teamed with Pill producer/co-songwriter Glen Ballard for Junkie, and the result is even more affluent (or effluent, depending on your perspective), the slickness of tracks like “Can’t Not” nearly impenetrable. Somehow, though, this only adds to the album’s grandeur and overwhelming sense of import. Obviously influenced musically as much as she was spiritually by her global journeys, songs like “The Couch” have an undeniable World Music flair. Though distinctly “pop” in style and execution, Junkie runs the gamut from dance-pop to rock and includes everything from dramatic string orchestrations to hip-hop loops and roaring electric guitars. The album’s lead single, “Thank U,” features a soft-rock synth hook and a bundle of Morissette’s signature list-y lyrics (“How ‘bout getting off of these antibiotics?...How ‘bout them transparent dangling carrots?”) that are anything but ordinary. The complete antithesis of “You Oughta Know,” Morissette wails not with rage, but with revelation. Of course, the stacked vocal overdubs that have become her trademark are all over Junkie, as is her cute verbage (she uses the word “muchly” in both song and liner notes) and disjointed phrasing: “I was afraid of your ex-plo-si-ons!” she sings on “Sympathetic Character.”
Songs like “Sympathetic Character” and “Front Row,” the album’s opening track, require a whole new way of listening (specifically, sitting down and actually reading the lyrics of the album word for word). Junkie is decidedly more challenging than its predecessor: the hooks are hidden beneath atypical song structures (the clever “Unsent,” which is sung as a series of letters to ex-boyfriends, and “That I Would Be Good,” which ends with a painful yet endearing flute solo by Morissette), and the songs aren’t as humorous or immediate as, say, “Ironic.” Often bloated? Sure. Over-ambitious? Yes. The album is nearly 15 minutes too long (did an ode to her mother, the sweet “Heart Of The House,” really need to be made public?), but not one moment of Junkie‘s 70-plus minutes is less than captivating.