Jagged Little Pill – Alanis Morissette (1995)
First released in the summer of 1995, Jagged Little Pill is regarded as Morissette’s international debut, but it was technically her third album, having previously released two dance pop albums in her native Canada.
This album, however, was a totally different beast to its predecessors, with its distinctive alternative rock, post-grunge sound. Every track is loaded with highly-charged emotion, from the seething rage of You Oughta Know to the more philosophical Hand in My Pocket, with songs like Ironic jumping almost schizophrenically between the two extremes. Combined with lyrics which are frequently as explicit as they are uncompromising, the recording speaks of the experiences of a worldly-wise but bruised adult passing down her hard-earned life lessons rather than a young woman who had only just turned 21 at the time of its release. At times, Morissette’s emotions are laid so unflinchingly bare that you can almost see blood pouring out of open wounds.
This is not an album which subdivides neatly into up-tempo tracks and ballads, but is more of a genuine anthology piece that twists and turns in different directions along the spectrum – a Canterbury Tales of the musical world, if you will.
My favourite moments remain the raw, almost psychotic barrage of You Oughta Know and the busker-like, musing nature of Hand in My Pocket, with its accompanying harmonica riffs (played by Morissette herself). These two songs – her first singles – encapsulate everything about the extremes of Morissette’s lyrical and melodic scope, a combination of fire and ice which subsequent albums, though still good, never fully recaptured. But how brilliantly and brightly the flame burns here: the album grabs you by the throat and compels you to listen.
Jagged Little Pill remains the best-selling debut album of all time, with global sales in excess of 33 million copies. It topped the album charts in the US, UK, Canada and Australia, and was certified 16x platinum in the US and 10x platinum in the UK, where it has surpassed sales of over three million units alone. Incredibly, despite the enormous success of the album, it did not produce a top three single in either the US or UK: Ironic peaked at number four in the US, while it was not until fifth single Head Over Feet that she achieved her first top ten hit in the UK.
Swallow it down (what a jagged little pill)
It feels so good (swimming in your stomach)
Wait until the dust settles
Jagged Little Pill brings back memories of long drives on dark evenings during the winter of 1995/96 between Oxford, Andover and London – a triangle, each side of which required a drive of an hour-plus – as it was the album I had in my car stereo for many of those seemingly endless miles.
At the time, Heather had just started her DPhil at Wolfson College in Oxford. I was living and working in Andover. (I had lodgings just behind the back straight of the circuit at Thruxton, which was useful for a motor racing fan like me, as it was a mere 20-minute walk round to the main entrance on race days.) And London was a semi-regular destination for work, which was about to become a more regular base for me for several months.
I remember two drives in particular between Andover and Oxford shortly before Christmas of 1995, when we had finally decided – after four years together and having become engaged a year previously – to move in together.
With Heather not needing her car on a day-to-day basis, I had sold my little VW Polo – a car I had something of a love-hate relationship with on account of it having a breathless 1.0 litre engine, just four forward gears and a leaky petrol tank – and taken her weighty Ford Escort estate instead. (It says something that I considered this to be an upwardly-mobile step.)
Meanwhile, Heather was abandoning her college room for one of Wolfson’s ‘married flats’ which was actually a two-bedroom apartment with two living rooms identically kitted out with single beds, tables and armchairs. But it was still our first home, complete with hitherto unheard of luxuries like our own kitchen and bathroom.
The drives I remember so clearly are the ones I made with two heavily-laden carloads as I decamped my worldly possessions from Andover to Oxford. I’ve never given it a second’s thought until now – I’m not really one for dwelling on things – but in the excitement of moving into our own place together, I never stopped to consider that embarking on this new phase in my life also meant the end of another phase as a young single person. It was a rite of passage that passed unnoticed. No regrets, though.
We had some great times in the year and a half we spent in that flat, ignoring niggles like not having a proper double bed and having to drag our washing halfway across the college to use the communal laundry. It was here that we held our first Eurovision Song Contest party (now an annual event), where we watched the first-ever season of Friends, and where we set about planning our wedding in Malaysia.
If anything, Jagged Little Pill was the soundtrack to the time in my life when I stopped being a young man and became a man. As Morissette herself says: you live, you learn; you love, you learn.
Morissette has a twin brother, Wade, and an older brother, Chad.
As teenaged Alanis Nadine (her first and middle names), she competed in the US talent show Star Search, but was eliminated after her first round.
Hand in My Pocket was used as the theme music of the original unaired pilot of Dawson’s Creek. (It was subsequently replaced at Morissette’s request when the series went to air.)
Morissette has played the role of God on the silver screen, in the film Dogma.
She performed her song Wunderkind at the closing ceremony of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
Alanis married rapper Mario ‘MC Souleye’ Treadway in May 2010.
1. All I Really Want
2. You Oughta Know
4. Hand in My Pocket
5. Right Through You
7. You Learn
8. Head Over Feet
9. Mary Jane
11. Not the Doctor
12. Wake Up
Do you own this album? If so, what memories does it evoke for you? Look out for more ‘Classic Albums’ posts coming soon.