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Alanis Morissette - Havoc And Bright Lights (Album Review)

Wednesday, 05 September 2012 Written by Simon Ramsay
Alanis Morissette - Havoc And Bright Lights (Album Review)

Back in 1995 Alanis Morissette's third album, 'Jagged Little Pill', redefined the female singer songwriter, marrying an explicitly delivered vitriolic narrative to commercial indie-pop sensibilities. It sold 33 million copies, inspired a generation of watered down copycats like Natasha Bedingfield and turned it's emotionally erratic creator into a feminist icon whose every move was magnified for the whole world to see. Particularly her behaviour in theatres. Since then Morissette's music has played out like a public therapy session, working through her endless issues with an honesty and self indulgence that's sometimes profound, other times narcissistic. Her eighth studio album 'Havoc And Bright Lights' continues that formula. "This record, as always, is a snapshot of what I currently obsess about, care about, and what strikes me at four in the morning in my most introspective moments”, she states. “It is my emotional, psychological, social and philosophical commentary through song”. Business as usual then.

ImageIt's impossible to review Alanis without referencing her personal life. Following 2008's electronically experimental 'Flavours Of Entanglement' she's married rapper Mario Treadway and given birth to a son named Ever (Really. Fortunately she'll be able to afford his therapy bills ). Cue songs about marital struggles and the challenges of matriarchal responsibility. As well as the usual accounts of wrestling with her own, let's be honest, demented personality.

Whilst the lyrical approach remains familiar, Morissette's musical canvas is always changing. From 'Jagged Little Pill's' post grunge pop smarts to 'Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie's' sprawling psychedelic nightmares and 'Flavours' hip hop beats, Alanis has continually evolved. 'Havoc And Bright Lights', whilst retaining elements of previous albums, delivers her most commercial material to date, showcasing a lush series of piano led compositions overflowing with sparkling layers of instrumentation. All led by that quirky yet powerful idiosyncratic voice. It's so commercial some songs even show – no kidding – contentment?!?

Highlights abound, from the glistening parental anthem 'Guardian', to the grinning pop rock of 'Receive', where she discusses coping with motherhood and finding time for herself. The requisite feminist diatribe occurs on 'Woman Down', with synthesised beats erupting into a spiky chorus that sounds like a 'Jagged Little Pill' song reworked for Madonna's 'Ray Of Light' album. There's a couple of tremendous ballads too. The beautifully tender piano lullaby 'Til You' is replete with ethereal, angelic background vocals whilst 'Havoc' is an achingly sparse confessional, backed by a lonely cello and more ivory tinkling as she confronts the effects of her self destructive behaviour.

Alanis has always delivered her best material over edgy, dystopic soundscapes and that continues here. The eastern prowl of 'Celebrity' finds dark electronic throbs, tribal beats and a guitar fuzzed chorus hammering home a cautionary tale about the emptiness of living for fame. But the album's bleakest highlight is 'Numb' - a hallucinatory fever dream about drug addiction, all claustrophobic ambience and distorted semi-industrial menace with processed vocals and an insistently brooding bass. Not to mention lashings of delirious Indian strings and scything guitar work. In short – one of the best thing Alanis has ever done.

Pop song's are plentiful too - with shiny happy 'Empathy' rolling along on a giddy piano refrain as our loved up troubadour celebrates being healed by her husband's compassion. In contrast, chiming guitars and echoing vocal harmonies on 'Lens' ride a Jagged Little Pill indie groove into a mantra like chorus, steeped in spiritual metaphor, about the problems of contradictory perspectives in a relationship.

The album isn't flawless. At 14 tracks it's too long and hampered by some bland filler, from the horridly sentimental 'Will You Be My Girlfriend?' and the soppy sap of 'Win And Win', to the fireless 'Spiral', whose lyrics are too self serving and feature Alanis' worst habit of trying to meld awkward phrases into a melody. Also, at times the production is far too busy with so much happening it's overwhelming. In both instances less would have been more. However, the album finishes in style with the exceptional 'Magical Child', a stirring cinematic ballad with a jazzy Dave Matthews feel, soothing French horn and Alanis' most perspicacious lyrical refrain 'To thy own self be true'. It's masterful songwriting, subtle and understated without descending into her oh so clever wordplay that sometimes irritates.

Overall, it's a mostly great pop album that with less songs, more subtle production and reduced schmaltz would have been damn near perfect. Whilst it won't convert naysayers 'Havoc And Bright Lights' is an album Alanis fans will love, particularly those put off by her past experimentation. The only worrying sign is the increased contentment. Will she finally live happily ever after? Not that we wish any harm, but Alanis is at her best when scorned, vengeful and angry. However, dealing with the pressures of family life and a growing child whilst battling her Jekyll and Hyde habits should provide enough angst for many album's to come. Especially when young Ever starts understanding her lyrics and asking awkward questions about 'theatre etiquette'!

Alanis Morissette released 'Havoc And Bright Lights' is available now via Columbia UK. Alanis tours the UK in November.

Alanis Morissette UK & Ireland Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed November 28th 2012 - O2 Arena, London
Thu November 29th 2012 - Capital FM Arena Nottingham, Nottingham
Fri November 30th 2012 - Liverpool Echo Arena, Liverpool

Click Here to Compare & Buy Alanis Morissette Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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