Ican remember the first time I heard Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. It was almost exactly 10 years ago, the day of the album’s release, and I was 16. My parents were sleeping and my headphones were broken, so I had to listen to the CD with the volume turned way down, with only the album lyrics to guide me. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard (or read) before. Sure, Sinéad and Ani and Tori and Liz (that’s Phair, in case you’re wondering, since she sadly hasn’t earned one-name recognition while the likes of Ashlee and Christina have) had been tearing it up for years before Canada’s answer to Tiffany decided to bare her soul, with Wilson Phillips’s producer to boot. But Alanis managed something none of those pioneering alt-rock ladies had: her single, “You Oughta Know,” with its snarling references to giving head in a movie theater, was being played incessantly on Top 40 radio. And then there were those pipes, the reedy rock equivalent (or antithesis?) of Mariah’s then-popular extroverted calisthenics; Alanis possessed the kind of raw power, focus, and technique that Courtney Love could never achieve.
Over the years we’ve learned that the female angst of “You Oughta Know” hardly defines Alanis the artist. Under-appreciated follow-ups Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie and Under Rug Swept displayed an understanding of forgiveness and spirituality that were only hinted at on “Hand In My Pocket” and “You Learn.” On her new album, a 10th anniversary acoustic version of Jagged Little Pill, Alanis revisits these songs and, of course, that monster hit, where the once potent lyric “Every time I scratch my nails down someone else’s back I hope you feel it” (to which a dry-witted childhood friend of mine once replied, “I don’t think that’s possible”) now resonates with new metaphysical gravity. Maybe the vengeful Alanis, scorned by Full House‘s Dave Coulier, of all people, knew something about quiet, meditative revenge the rest of us can scarcely fathom. But I digress.
Rather than simply toss out a deluxe version of Pill with a few bonus tracks, or worse, a lame-ass DVD, Alanis gets points for following through on her commitment to her fans by completely re-recording the album—and make no mistake, this is unquestionably a record for the fans…all 14 million of them. On the other hand, why mess with near-perfection? The new arrangements aren’t particularly fresh or innovative, nor do they reveal anything about the original recordings or the artist. Few, if any, are completely reinvented. “You Oughta Know” benefits the most from the acoustic treatment, partly because it was the most aggressive song on the album, while the formerly peppy “Not The Doctor” gets a deliciously darker, organ-infused interpretation. And finally, Alanis and Ballard put meat on the bones of the originally a cappella hidden track “Your House,” a haunting ode to obsessive love.
But, for the most part, what was once electrifying is now stripped of almost all of its energy and novelty. Aside from a couple of revised lyrics (“It’s meeting the man of my dreams/And then meeting his beautiful…husband,” she quips on “Ironic”), the album’s hits—from the opening track “All I Really Want” (a minor modern rock radio hit) to the Top 10 single “You Learn”—are just deflated versions of their former selves. Sure, there are lots of new and seemingly exotic instruments (marxophone, perapaloshka, cajon) and plenty of strings to lush things up, but in some instances the acoustic versions actually accentuate the original album’s weaknesses: Album cuts like “Forgiven” and “Perfect” could have (and should have) been completely rearranged, musically and melodically, and the still-pretty “Mary Jane” is also still, regrettably, not about smoking marijuana.
Alanis intended these new, pared-down versions to showcase the true emotion behind the songs and it should be noted that Avril Lavigne has yet to capture the essence of disaffected youth the way Alanis did (and does) with “Hand In My Pocket.” And “Head Over Feet,” though not much different here, reveals itself to be a surprisingly durable paean to unexpected love. It’s just a shame the new recordings are so damn anemic. I suppose the album was tailor-made for the java-sipping on-the-go types who frequent Starbucks, which is selling Pill exclusively for six weeks (much to the chagrin of traditional retail outlets across the country). We wouldn’t want to overexcite them, what with all the caffeine running through their veins. But I just can’t imagine rushing home to listen to this, and even if I did, it certainly wouldn’t wake my parents up.