Falling Head Over Feet (All Over Again): ‘Jagged Little Pill’ And Her Hold On Me

 © Alanis Morrisette, 1995

By Neve Robinson

Warning: This is by no means a ‘professional’ article. It reads more like a personal essay. Die-hard avid Alanis fanclub members, please do tolerate my ramblings, there are some glimmers of Ms Morrissette in here, and not just my diary, honestly…

Recently, I revisited an album that I hadn’t listened to in eons. Do you ever have a record that you once played cover to cover, and you just one day abandoned, never really to be returned to again? Musical maturity seems to dictate that we don’t return to old favourites, that we seek the new, bold and exciting. This of course is completely fine – it’s what we’re all about on this blog, of course. But the nostalgia that ensued from my sitting down and relistening to this record in full was more blissful than even the most sparkling epiphany one experiences at new discoveries. The moment that I shuffled this on Spotify and let it flood gratefully into my auditory nerves, illuminating my ear canals with glorious rainbows and celestial seas…God, I’m even drifting off dreamily into this sentence as Mary Jane plays from my battered soundsystem. I can’t even tell you the incredible contentedness that en-swathed me. I had, within about ten minutes, opened up Ebay, purchased a vinyl copy of this record, and in another tab opened up Google Docs to pen this very article you are currently privy to. The sense of urgency that this rediscovery inspired in me was remarkable. I suppose it is because it is an album that is nothing short of remarkable. This is an album that resonated with me in my youth. An album that, at that juncture of my life, seemed to mainly appeal to my general teenage angst, but upon relisten has touched me in a totally different. That album is of course, Jagged Little Pill, by the imitable Alanis Morrissette. I’m going to link it below. I want you to shuffle it, or at the very least start from the start. Press play, now. I’m hoping I can express my feelings about this record successfully enough that you will begin to see what I mean.

I was putting together a radio show, a show that focused on the year of 1995 (you can listen to it here, for contextual purposes in relation to this article and not for reasons of self-promotion, of course). Having to favour the cleaner-cut side of ’95, my hip-hop choices were slim to none due to the cursed claws of censorship, and I didn’t want to rely solely on Britpop offerings (I am a musical Mancunian cliche, but not that much, honest). I decided to delve more into alt-rock, and then I had that realisation – of course! Alanis! How could I forget her? She was once a dear companion of mine.

When I was about 14, I went through a slightly difficult part of my life. My friends became sparse and few and far between all of a sudden. I had to work myself out a lot. It’s a strangely formative age, being 14. You’re a teenager, certainly, but not quite old enough to do daring things you’d seen the teenagers in Hollyoaks do. I longed for the normal things all 14 year olds do, really. To be pretty (I struggled with this a lot, I wish I could give little me a big squeeze). To kiss a boy (turns out it’s not all it’s hyped up to be). To have legions of loving mates (this eventually sort of happened, but it took me some time, trust me). I was a lanky emo with braces and cripplingly low self-esteem. I was sweet, though. Naive, but sweet. I was finding figuring myself out a little more difficult than I’d initially anticipated. How did I want to present myself? What kind of people did I want to surround myself with? It’s all well and good having an incredibly loving and supporting family who adore you unconditionally, but trying to navigate high school where nobody has to like you and in fact, not many people do? It’s a whole different ball park. I had a real journey of independence to embark on, and by God, was I going to do it. It was either succumb to shyness and self-doubt, or come out of my shell, and be who I had long-romanticised myself to be. I decided to throw myself into creative endeavours and hope that somehow, the world would maybe start working out in my favour – and that perhaps the girls in the P.E queue for rounders bats would stop kicking the back of my legs and verbally pondering my sexuality. They never quite got it right. I wonder what guess they would hazard now.

Slowly, it worked, and my confidence built up. Though I no longer play and lost interest in the craft with age, I played guitar at this time. I didn’t reckon myself to be very good, but I enjoyed it. My dad taught me bar chords and songs that I liked, while I did scales and boring paint-by-numbers Classical Guitar at school. My guitar teacher at school was a bit dull to say the least, and didn’t really want me to tackle more contemporary stuff. But the one thing he did bring me, the one pivotal album he taught me pretty much in full? Jagged Little Pill. This guy was obsessed with Alanis. I’m talking borderline Stan and Slim Shady level. I’ve been lucky to have had the most fortunate of musical educations and upbringings, and yet I didn’t even know who she was before our lessons. My guitar teacher had a specific songbook for the album, and he lent it to me. I’ve always been one for words. I remember poring over the lyrics, marvelling in how this woman that I hadn’t even known existed was somehow opening my mind to experiences and opinions that I either already had, or would go on to have as I grew. The way that she responded to things that I struggled with intrigued me. She was defiant, she was boisterous, she was angry. Her self-worth and respect are evident throughout the record, not just in the way that men treat her, but in the way that society does. A young woman with such a grasp and perspective on herself was, to a lost young lady such as myself, so revolutionary and a breath of fresh air. I had previously aligned myself with musicians who were wracked with self loathing. I guess that’s the allure of being an emo when you’re that age, a strange sense of community. But Alanis immediately made me want to break away from these negative notions I’d long harboured about myself. Within a month or so, my mum had bought me the CD and I had played it until it was adorned with sparkling scratches. I had officially become entangled in the Canadian songstress’ web, and she had become entangled in mine, without ever knowing.

You know that old chestnut, where people say to [insert fairly run-of-the-mill mediocre musician] – “your music saved me”. I finally understood this sentiment. Sure, it can seem silly, cringe or even trite to the more cynical among us. But if words and melodies inspire you, if they offer you support when you’re a bit lonely and don’t really have the comfort of anything else, and really if they spur you to positively grow and adapt? Well, I don’t think it’s a bad assessment to make at all. I don’t think it’s unrealistic, either. Who are we to criticise someone’s bond and personal connection with an artist, even if nobody else really understands it? It’s a plight I empathise with hugely, because I truly do maintain that this album did save me. I slowly but surely came out of my shell. I think on reflection that school and the strange ideals young women are pressured into from a young age really instilled a strange toxic dislike of other girls in me, almost an ugly resentment of girls that I felt were prettier than me and more popular than me. I didn’t understand that we could all be pretty and popular, duh. It’s not a competition. I also think I maybe associated the validation of having a boyfriend with loving yourself and appreciating your quirks far too much, be this from (again) the influence of wider pop culture or just a socialisation thing. I think what I didn’t understand most of all that really, I didn’t need to fully work out my personality just yet to be happy. Everyone has multiple facets of themselves, some parts you will dislike, and some parts that you will love. It’s all about working out a balance that makes you happy. I think Hand In My Pocket really reinforced that for me –

I’m broke, but I’m happy
I’m poor, but I’m kind
I’m short, but I’m healthy, yeah
I’m high, but I’m grounded
I’m sane, but I’m overwhelmed
I’m lost, but I’m hopeful, baby
.

She acknowledged the good and the bad and accepted all of it and everything in between. Because as she said:

What it all boils down to / is that no one’s really got it figured out just yet.

And that’s exactly it. Why should I, a literal child, have panicked and agonised that I hadn’t worked myself out yet? Why was that a thing? It’s messed up how that’s a thing. Alanis taught me to be care-free, to not worry so much what other people thought of me, and most of all to be happy in myself. That summer, soundtracked by my faithful iPod Nano with JLP loaded onto it, I started to connect with people that really made me feel good about myself. I found a bravery that hadn’t really existed before. It goes hand in hand with a heightened self-worth, that. I made one lovely friend in particular who I would listen to Jagged Little Pill with in her attic, feet against the bedframe with our long tangled hair splayed across the carpet with Ironic blasting. I started acting properly, something I’d always felt too scared to do. And it was the strangest thing. As my confidence blossomed and I started making decisions that were truly for my own self-preservation and not out of fear of fitting in, my jealousy, resentment and bitterness against other girls in my class started to dissipate. That’s the thing about Alanis. Her plight for self-love is never at the expense of others. It’s never about tearing peers or other women down, not even when she’s angry like in You Oughta Know. Her feminism was different to the ‘feminism’ I had prescribed to from young-adult gossip magazines – the “hey, hey, you, you, I don’t like your girlfriend” rhetoric (sorry Avril). With my new found friends and self-assured nature, I slowly stopped being bullied and stopped using music as the heavy, heavy emotional crutch I had used it for in those difficult times. I traded it instead for merely a tool for enjoyment now and then. Alanis was pushed to the back of my memory, and I moved on in my musical journey, eating up new artists and interests with every year that passed. But I never forgot the impact that she had on me, or the way that I saw things at that point in my life. You don’t ever truly forget something like that.

So, fast forward to now. Fast forward to the moment that I sat down, pressed play on JLP and felt a swell in my chest and tears prick at my eyes. God, I sound lame. I’d like to blame this sudden serge of emotion on lockdown, I’d like to blame it on the current difficulties in my personal life and mental health. But really, I think it was more just the shock of it. I’ve been in a slump as of late. Low in self-esteem, low in validation, let down by failed romantic endeavours and friends who frittered away. I’ve almost felt in a similar state to how I did all those years ago, but with more pals, better hair and less eyeliner. To be really honest with you, dear readers, I’m worried that I’m losing my confidence and crumbling away. I don’t feel a particular warmth or love for myself that I possessed as recently as a few weeks ago. That’s the thing with self-love, it fluctuates. And you sometimes need a nudge to get you back on track with it. When I let her words wash over me just now, I heard exactly what I needed to hear. Not The Doctor. It’s strange to have lyrics resonate with you in a completely different way than they did when you first heard them. Alanis wrote this record when she was 20/21 (which in itself is baffling). As a 22 year old young woman, I’m now finding that the lyrics are more relatable than ever. Back when I was 14, I modelled myself on Alanis certainly, but I was yet to experience many of the things that she sings about particularly relationship-wise. But now that I’m at exactly the point that she was at, with many a failed relationship under my belt, I empathise and relate with her lyrics and musings moreso. I use Not The Doctor as a key example of this because it is almost exactly how I would summarise my opinions on recent relationships. There’s a plethora of songs about love and heartbreak out there. But for me, this song is different. This is a song that, were I a gifted Bernie Taupin type, I would write myself now.

I don’t wanna be adored for what I merely represent to you. I often battle with this sensation. That men merely romanticise me, and the moment that they realise that I’m actually just a mess of multiple facets of a personality rather than an idea they disappear.

I don’t wanna be your mother / I didn’t carry you in my womb for nine months. I’ve dated many a man who I have babied, and admittedly lost myself completely in because of this bizarre maternal sense I feel in caring for them.

And I don’t wanna be your other half / I believe that one and one make two. That’s my dilemna now. Trying to rebuild myself without this structure of essentially being ‘part’ of someone else. It’s difficult. It’s weird. I can’t help but feel I shouldn’t even have to relocate myself in the first place.

I could go on analysing all day. I just find it incredible, how so many different feelings and attachments to this record have been inspired in me upon listening with a more mature ear. I understand things I never did. I first listened to this record as a little mouse of a girl. I listen to it now as a strong, self-assured woman going through a rough patch. I feel proud of the journey that Alanis and this album have helped me to embark upon and how far we’ve come together.

Enough about the personal connection, though. Factually speaking, this record is genius. It dabbles in a myriad of genres, spanning post-grunge, alternative rock, folk, indie. Vocally, she more than impresses, with a voice that beggars belief that it is coming out of such a young woman. It’s cohesive, and virtually no track is skippable. She explores addiction, heartbreak, It was nominated for NINE, yes, NINE Grammy Awards. And once again, I reiterate – TWENTY-ONE YEARS OF AGE! I grilled a pizza this evening by putting the oven on the wrong setting. It’s funny how usefully others can utilise their short time on this Earth, isn’t it? It’s even been adapted into a Broadway musical that’s been nominated for FIFTEEN Tony Awards. You don’t need to do the maths. Jagged Little Pill is something special. Her exploration of emotions and truths that she realises throughout the tracks reminds me of the songcraft of artists like Carole King. Her emotional maturity and sensibility helped me and has probably helped countless other little girls in the world. I feel privleged to have had her be so pivotal in my own personal growth. Even young starlets who would grow to be some of the biggest artists in the world felt that inspiration, too – Katy Perry said of the record that “Jagged Little Pill was the most perfect female record ever made.” She said that she related to every track. “They’re still so timeless.” Perry has hit the nail on the head there. Timeless. For a record to have this profound effect on me so many years on confirms one thing clearly to me – this record will always be everpresent in my life. No matter how long I leave her unplayed, she’s something special, and she’ll always be waiting for when I need her.

Alanis Morrissette thank you for your honest lyrics and always being the most wonderful role model. Here’s one thing You Oughta Know – Jagged Little Pill changed my life, babe. I hope you know how many other young girls’ lives you changed too. If I ever have a daughter, this will be the first album I’ll ever play for her, rest assured.


HALF-HOUR HUMDINGERS: 10 Albums To Soundtrack Your 30 Minute Makeover

© Nick Drake, 1973, who might make a lovely little appearance on this list…

By Alex Lamont

You’ve eaten your bowl of spaghetti, you’ve scrubbed the mundane daily dust from your hard-worked hands, and your half hour power nap is slept away. The big night looms large up ahead. All that’s missing? The tunes. The tried and trusted “BANGERS” playlist just won’t cut it today, you’re in the mood for real music, man, word food for your incoming encounters. 

Here’s ten albums under 30 minutes for when time is of the essence and this niche situation is your blissful reality.

10. Come On Pilgrim by Pixies

© Pixies

The princes and princesses of the 80s and 90s garagey-punk scene delivered a little package of magic in their 1987 debut Come On Pilgrim which will keep you feeling cool all day. There are some real highlights of the Pixies catalogue stored in this 20-minute thrill, including the infectiously optimistic sounding Holiday Song (ignoring the lyrics just for tonight), the Lou Reed lover’s I’ve Been Tired, and banging opener Caribou. You might even have time to throw another album on after too! It must be your lucky day…

9. Camera by Chromatics

© Italians Do It Better

Italians Do It Better’s poster child Chromatics are second to none in providing that ethereal feeling of perfectly balanced headiness and hope. This collection of tracks along with their alternate mixes and versions will help you float your way through the world with a new sense of purpose, sheening your moonlit surroundings in an enticing glow of optimism. Title-track Camera is a fitting introduction to a 24-minute soundtrack of dreaming, while Magazine moulds itself into an electronic 80’s anthem. And when the originals are over you can bookend your night with the instrumentals.

8. Pottymouth by Bratmobile

© Bratmobile

The punk landscape is full to its grimy brim with short flashes of electric brilliance, and this entry arrives and departs just in time to rile you up and send you on your rebellious way. Bratmobile’s Pottymouth is a criminally overlooked bright spot in the confusing 90’s soundscapes, going hard where it needs to and kicking arse while doing it. Cherry Bomb more than matches The Runaways’ original classic, while Panik and Richard growl and groan attitude. 

7. I’m New Here by Gil Scott-Heron

© Gil Scott-Heron

Gil Scott-Heron has one of those once-in-a-lifetime voices that sulks and soothes with its gruff comfort. Combining soul and spoken word, Scott-Heron delivered a beautiful collection of poetry in his first release after sixteen years, all in a concise 15-song 28-minute album, remixed some years later by Makaya McCraven in a fitting posthumous release.  Rich with heart and experience, I’m New Here is an invaluable staple in the Gil Scott-Heron discography.

6. Bestial Burden by Pharmakon

© Pharmakon

Bestial Burden lingers patiently amongst the shadows, its sleek, oily fingers of intoxication pulling back your hair as the end-of-night retching grips tightly to your shoulders, shaking through to your very soul.

In other words, this industrial nightmare may better soundtrack your late-night lavatory visits than your pre-drinks, but worry not! Nightmares don’t last forever…! Only 28 minutes… (Minus the bonus track)…

5. Aretha Now by Aretha Franklin

©Aretha Franklin

Not every night needs bear such a pessimistic outcome though surely? Legendary Aretha Franklin provides the soul food for when you’re feeling lucky, looking sexy and planning a sleepless night. Franklins version of  I Say a Little Prayer is a strong contender for the best song of all time and joins a whole host of worthy company. And hey, if the night doesn’t reach the dizzy, expected heights; just play it alone and fall in love with yourself. Just make sure you took Pharmakon off the queue…

4. RINA by Rina Sawayama 

©Rina Sawayama

Its follow-up predecessor might have received the wider acclaim, but Sawayama’s debut certainly holds its own as a party warm up. RINA is a spotless 24-minutes of primo pop, and it just sounds like an album which could reappear again twenty years from now as a classic. Ordinary Superstar is a doorway into a whole world of perfectly produced joy, and by the time Cyber Stockholm Syndrome hits, you’ll be bursting at the seams in anticipation for the wonders of the night.

3. My Dear Melancholy, by The Weeknd

©The Weeknd

Some might say that it would be wrong to party to an album constructed in a time so evidently difficult for its creator. To those people, I challenge you to listen to I Was Never there‘s incredible beat switch and insist that those aren’t tears of appreciation, rather than sadness. My Dear Melancholy, is undeniably heart-breaking, but it’s so damn good that it can play out just as effectively as an orgasmic climax of sound. I mean Privilege? Whew.

2. Sweet Princess by Dry Cleaning 

©Dry Cleaning

Yeah yeah, I see the ‘EP’ on the album cover, but you’ve read this far, and I haven’t steered you wrong yet have I? I know Pharmakon was cutting it a bit fine, but I promise Sweet Princess is worth it. 21 minutes of spoken word that feels like its coming from your own mouth accompanying jagged post-punk riffs sounds like a good deal to me. A love letter to Meghan Markle and a critique of the party you’re about to attend sounds pretty convincing to me…

1. Pink Moon by Nick Drake

©Nick Drake

I don’t think too much can be said about Pink Moon that hasn’t already been summarised by our universal accepting of its perfection. Whether you’re in your introspective, pre-party mood, or arriving home drunk and defeated, Nick Drake is on hand to wrap his arms around you in a comforting, audible hug. Which Will is in my eyes Drake’s best work, and it would be quite impossible to leave Pink Moon off this list. 

Album Review: Black Country, New Road’s Debut Dabbles In Plethora of Genres

© Black Country, New Road 2021

By Josh Loynes

I realise that it’s largely considered wanker-ish behaviour to quote yourself, but allow it for just this once. After seeing Black Country, New Road live at the start of last year, one of the last gigs I went to before The Event, I had this to say as part of a long, rambling and unpublished mini-essay I wrote recounting the experience.

“One of the forerunners in the current wave of experimental rock bubbling up from the south, Black Country, New Road seem to have struck gold with a sound that has left every member of the “you probably won’t know them” Northern Quarter vibe police painfully erect with no more than a pair of singles and an ever-escalating run of mythical live shows where “you just HAD to be there”. Improv and originality is the name of the game, with the set made up of about 4 or 5 discernible songs weaved together by extended sections of carefully curated chaos.”

A lot has happened since then (and not just the attempted coining of the fantastic term speedywunder-core to describe some of these bizarre young bands harking from the eponymous label and Brixton’s legendary Windmill). With their debut album finally out, it’s difficult to decide whether BC,NR have captured that same sense of electric and eclectic excitement in the studio, and really how much that matters. 

Going into For the First Time there already seemed to be potential cause for concerns about “freshness”, with 4 of the 6 tracks already having been released in one form or another as singles. However with a band who’s discography is so extensively catalogued through live bootlegs, there’s little they can really do to avoid this. Bookending the album are the only previously unreleased tracks Instrumental and Opus, the first living up to its name with a lyric-less slow build-up to a marching avalanche of klezmer rhythm and melody that explodes into screaming, James Chance-esque saxophone, clearing the way and setting the tone for what is to come. Arriving 27 minutes later, Opus has been a staple of their live shows for some time, with it’s furious, howling, and once again klezmer-influenced riff coming full circle to the album opener and inspiring similar feelings of panic as a fire alarm at 4am. Also = who knew every self-appointed indie tastemaker was such an expert in obscure Hebrew folk music? I can’t say I really knew anything about klezmer a few days ago, but thank god we’re surrounded by such authorities on the subject.

But then with a track as synonymous to BC,NR as Sunglasses, any changes to the single that’s been so championed for the last two years was bound to ruffle feathers. Some changes are objectively for the better, the slow, sludgy intro of their live performances has crept into the album version and announces the arrival of the song proudly and defiantly. Some changes however have taken some time to grow on me, most notably the changes to Isaac’s lyrics. Gone is the iconic line “and f*ck me like you mean it this time“, along with most of the other highly quotable but thickly angst laden turns of phrase. And given time and reflection I can see why; it would be silly to not expect his writing and the deeply personal statements within to not have evolved and matured over the last 2 years- it’s not better or worse, it’s just different.

The same is true for the new take on Athens, France, the new subdued mix and lyrical stylings suggest a maturity that could be taken ever so slightly personally by anyone favouring the previous, more angst heavy cut. Still present though is the Slint infused, threatening melancholia simmering beneath the surface, and while the wonderful imagery of “sourdough daily bread” is gone, the addition of “I am very young and working on the glow up” more than makes up for it.

Is it worth the wait? Definitely. Did it live up to expectations? Well, it’s disappointed and thrilled in equal measure amongst those who have been waiting for this since 2019. God bless those who discovered them on release, sans hype and full of wonder. But really, something like For the First Time was always unlikely to reach the levels of originality and unpredictability of what BC,NR have excelled at so far in their live assaults.

And that’s okay. This is their first album, delayed and disrupted by Covid-19 on top of all of the teething troubles of a band embarking on their first major project. The more time that I’ve spent with it, the more I’ve overcome my uncertainty and found myself really enjoying it. The production on all tracks is stellar, and if you’re unhappy with changes in the lyrics then guess what? The old songs still exist! My lasting impression of it can only really be that if this is Black Country, New Road at their first steps, God help anyone still in the race when they learn to run.