How to diagnose the sinking trajectory of Alanis Morissette’s career? The artist’s sound hasn’t changed much with time, but none of her singles after Jagged Little Pill have become cultural moments in the same way as “You Oughta Know” and “Ironic”—even the ones, like “Eight Easy Steps,” that really seemed like they could. Maybe the problem is just that Morissette’s attitude has changed. Whether it’s the rock sheen of 2004’s So-Called Chaos or the world sounds of her latest, Flavors of Entanglement, the new-age Alanis is someone who deals with heartache by doing yoga or taking a “breather,” as she does on “Moratorium.”
It’s been widely publicized that Flavors was written during Morissette’s break-up with actor Ryan Reynolds, but the album doesn’t possess the same sardonic incisiveness of her debut or the morose plainness of Beck’s Sea Change, two exceptional break-up records. The problem isn’t just that Morissette has mellowed; like the swirling “tapes” and echoed memories she repeatedly refers to throughout the album, her latest work has lost its emotional footing and visceral punch. “Citizen of the Planet” and “Straitjacket” open the album with harsh, chilly hooks, giving it the closest thing it has to a spine. “This shit’s making me crazy/The way you nullify what’s in my head,” she sings over a throbbing synth beat on the latter, before the whole thing slows down and finally dissipates.
It’s not too long, though, before new-age Alanis kicks in again, with about four too many ballads, equally sparse but also banal, and songs whose titles include “In Praise of the Vulnerable Man” and “Giggling Again for No Reason.” It’s here that her trademark wordy ramblings lose their trademark bite. There’s a lot of advice, wisdom and comparing relationships to jelly donuts—or something like that. Because of its more experimental production qualities, Flavors will draw somewhat misguided comparisons to Morissette’s sophomore effort, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, but there’s nothing experimental in the sentiment behind it. That album was emotionally complex but never without a nerve; the new Alanis, it seems, has many things to say, but they’re all half-formed and stuck inside her head.