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No One’s Really Got It Figured Out Just Yet: Jagged Little Pill Celebrates 25 Years

In 1995, the music industry, specifically the rock scene, was dominated by bands such as Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. Outside of grunge, Britpop legends Oasis released the album What’s The Story, Morning Glory? (“Champagne Supernova,” “Wonderwall” and “Don’t Look Back in Anger”). Soul Asylum released “Misery” and Radiohead released “Fake Plastic Trees.” Women in rock were few and far between, until Alanis Morisette, barely the drinking age not even two weeks following her 21st birthday, released her third studio album “Jagged Little Pill.”

Morisette first got eyes when she finished runner up to a cowboy on the Canadian show “One Bad Apple” in its search to find the next big music prodigy at the age of 16. She ended up releasing two dance albums, only in Canada, but it was a pissed off Morissette that experimented in the alternative scene, going full rock’n’roll and changing the world at 21 years old when she released Jagged Little Pill on June 13, 1995. Not expected to do much, the album ended up with 3 number one hits on the US Charts out of its 6 singles. The album sold 33 million copies worldwide, for comparison, Taylor Swift has sold 37.3 million albums in the United States over 7 studio albums, an average of just over 5 million per album. Jagged Little Pill sold 13 million in the United States.

Alanis was the very first Canadian female to score a number one album in the United States. She teamed up with Glenn Ballard to write the music (all of her own lyrics), and Madonna’s Maverick Records to produce the album. It was the first album in the history of the US to surpass 12 million copies sold, per Nielsen Soundscan. The album won Alanis a total of five different Grammy awards. It’s the 11th highest selling album in the history of music, behind albums such as Led Zeppelin IV, Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” Eminem’s “Marshall Mathers LP” among others. It has outsold albums such as The Beatles “Abbey Road,” Metallica’s Black album and everything Garth Brooks has released in his career (who has 8 albums that reached Diamond status and has sold over 150 million albums worldwide. He is the number one selling solo artist in the history of the United States).

Here is a chart from Spokesman.com:

It won the Polaris Heritage Prize in 2018. In 1996, she won six Juno awards. She was the artist that brought prominence to the female “diva” sensation, paving the way for the Meredith Brooks (“Bitch”) and Shakira’s (“Gypsy”) of the next few years, later on teenage sensation Avril Lavigne (“Girlfriend,” “Sk8er Boi” and “Complicated”). Current pop superstar Katy Perry cites Jagged Little Pill directly as an influence calling it the “most perfect female album ever.” It’s the reason she partners with Glenn Ballard on her music. The album has since been turned into a stageplay.

I recently bought this album at the very beginning of 2020, in a pre-COVID world, while out thrifting with my Uncle. It had been years since I’d sat and listened to it all of the way through, and when I put it in, all of it just hit me when it opened with “All I Really Want.” People still talk about every song on this album, including B-Sides, to this day, and there’s no way that an album can be that iconic and hold up. But, it does.

How does something that by all means should be extremely niche speak to millions around the globe? Why is this music so timeless? I think the opening really puts it into perspective: “Do I stress you out?” Alanis poses a question right out of the gate before articulating that she shouldn’t have to figure somebody out like they’re a puzzle every day of her life, going into the frustration of what no doubt is an emotionally abusive relationship. “If only I could meet the maker” gives a glimpse of the stuff he makes her think. “It would knock me to the floor if I wasn’t there already, if only I could hunt the hunter.” She’s out, she can’t get up because the situation just keeps getting worse and she wants the roles reversed, she wants him to feel what he makes her feel, but cites his “apathy” as what frustrates her: he’s remorseless to how she feels. He’s lack of care, his anger, she can’t change it. All she really wants? “A way to calm the angry voice.” This has become an anthem worldwide for people who have gone through the mental anguish of toxic, abusive relationships. It articulates the feelings that they have when they’re too afraid of speaking up because of not only what will happen and the response that they’d receive, but if they’re the one that’s in the wrong for allowing it to happen. Estella was referenced, which makes me think of Charles Dickens book “Great Expectations,” where there’s a character named Estella who jumps from abusive relationship to abusive relationship. The character was even played by Jean Simmons in the 1946 film adaption.

The next song on the track was the album’s first single “You Oughta Know,” which has become one of the most common karaoke tracks. This song’s on the heavier side, both musically and lyrically. One of the few songs to have a blatant F bomb and make it big on commercial radio without it being censored (“are you thinking of me while you fuck her?”) . The song is extremely explicit in holding back zero punches, especially when it comes to the actual relationship side. “An older version of me, is she perverted like me, would she go down on you in a theater?” Basically, her ex left her for somebody older and left her in pieces. She wants revenge and this is a perfect breakup revenge song (okay, maybe it’s not as disturbing as Frank Carter’s “I Hate You,” but it’s close). “Every time I scratch my nails down someone else’s back I hope you feel it.” The song explores female sexuality in a time where it was for the first time starting to not be considered a taboo subject.

There’s been rumors that it’s about Dave Coulier, who played Joey in Full House. In 1997, Coulier stated that the lyrics do remind him of their breakup, and his costar Bob Saget has gone on record that he was there when she “bugged him in the middle of dinner.” Morissette has confirmed it is specifically written for an ex, but has not confirmed which ex.

A few weeks ago I showed my sister the movie Booksmart, starring Kaitlyn Dever, for the first time, at which she absolutely lost it at the following scene:

The album then goes into its first B-Side, “Perfect”, a slower paced song that really shows her vocal range. Like a lot of songs on this album, she’s extremely facetious. This song is about the pressure that parents put on their children to be perfect children, which does not exist. When they offer their best, it “simply wasn’t good enough to make us proud.” It finishes with “we’ll love you just the way you are,” with the condition “if you’re perfect.” Even those who can’t relate with a song such as “You Oughta Know” have something to relate to because the message of this song is a place we’ve all been: where we feel we’re not good enough, and then somebody close to you confirms your suspicions.

The next song is another massive hit for Morissette “Hand in My Pocket.” This was originally the theme for Dawson’s Creek, before Morissette pulled it from the program. Her vocals range from a G3 to a C5 throughout, and the lyrics prominently feature the “rhyme juxtaposition” technique. On one hand, one could take “hand in my pocket” as a relaxed, very Orange Cassidy tone. On the other, and this is my perception, it’s more stop and take a breathe as life moves too fast. She only has one hand in her pocket, the other is “hailing a taxicab” to get to where she feels that she needs to be, giving a peace sign to spread love and potentially brighten somebody’s day the way she wishes somebody would do for her. “I’m sane but I’m overwhelmed; I’m lost but I’m hopeful baby.” “I feel drunk but I’m sober, I’m young but I’m underpaid.” Later on, “what is all boils down to is that nobody’s really got it figured out just yet.” She’s listing the good and the bad in her life, and that she just needs to figure it out. That’s the thing, nobody’s got it figured out, life is good and life is bad, and it’s all about what you look for, so the more jaded you are, the less happy you’ll be.

This is followed by “Right Through You.” This track has a very grunge sound, as if it’s something that would’ve been released by Mother Love Bone if Andrew Wood hadn’t passed away half a decade earlier. It’s about a record label who wants to “wine, dine and sixty nine” with their female performers instead of help launch their career. The next track is “Forgiven,” which focuses on the treatment of young women in Catholicism. Morissette was quoted later on saying that “I was told that if I wasn’t a virgin when I was a teenager, I must be a real whore. I believed that if I had sex I would be damned in hell forever.” Recently, Hulu’s Into The Dark series released the movie “Pure” which goes all in on the topic in a psychological horror movie. “You know how us Catholic girls can be, we make up for so much time a little too late” dives it right into how the Catholic church tries to prevent them from learning about their sexuality as opposed to exploring it. Alanis Morrissette played the role of God in the the film “Dogma.”

In the next track, Alanis recommends that everybody should get their heart trampled on. It was released as the albums fifth single in 1996, in between “Ironic” and “Head over Feet” (which is the next song on the album track). “Swallow it down like a jagged little pill.” This is a song that every single adult can relate to. This is basically saying that heartbreak is necessary to learn with how to deal with future relationships, and to look at the good and fix the bad for next time. The experience is always invaluable, and it’s spot on. It’s the most humbling song on the record.

Head over Feet is simple and that’s the beauty of it. It’s about getting swept off your feet when finding the one. It’s a story of somebody who fell in love with their best friend, their manners. It’s the anti-All I Really Want, in the latter she proclaims “all I really want is some patience.” Here, she thanks him for his patience. This is about being happy because of a committed relationship that goes beyond the realms of her physically attraction. It’s everything that everybody looks for.

This was followed by “Mary Jane.” This is a ballad with one of the most beautiful electric guitar spots I’ve ever heard. This is where Morissette tries to help out a friend going through a lot of issues, hinting at a crippling drug addiction (for example, Mary Jane is slang for marijuana). One of the most common misconceptions with pot is that it causes weight loss, which is another thing hinted at in “I hear you’re losing weight again.” Alanis basically tells the friend getting caught up in the hardships of life to focus on herself for a moment. Of course, it may not even be about pot addiction at all, but just an everyday person struggling through life and Alanis comforting her, allowing a safe place for her to open up and let it all out. “Please don’t censor your tears,” requests the eloquent Morissette. The best songs are the songs that can mean something different to every single person and still tug on the emotions. That’s Mary Jane.

The final radio single from this album comes in at the 10th track, with Ironic, with more of a pop rockish sound. This song was literally used by an English teacher of mine when I was younger to show us what the definition of “irony is” because “Ironic” is ironically used incorrectly throughout the song. “A traffic jam when you’re already late” is the exact opposite of something that is ironic. I think it’s there within that lays the brilliance of the lyrics, seeing as Alanis Morissette has a history of being sarcastic in her music, I feel like this wasn’t supposed to be taken literally. Who would’ve thought, it figures, right?

I referenced this song in a conversation with fellow PSE writer Dylan Steffen a few months back and he had to google it. I was very disappointed, thus he is getting put on blast.

The penultimate track (unless we include the hidden, alternate a Capella version of You Oughta Know) is a B-Side called “Not the Doctor,” which takes a more acoustic sound. With a more percussive background audio, Alanis absolutely drags the stereotypical woman as a caregiver, giving feminism a cover song. She doesn’t want to conform to these stereotypes because it’s “too much to ask for” and she’s “not the doctor.” The chorus is one of the catchiest I’ve ever personally heard.

The final track is “Wake Up,” but it’s stronger than most that close out albums. For example, my favorite album of all-time is Bon Jovi’s “These Days” and every song speaks to me until the final track, “Diamond Ring,” which does nothing but scream filler. I’ve found that this is common within most albums, and there’s always filler. Wake Up doesn’t give off that vibe, with its cry to the world to end its collective apathetic mindset. We need to fix this world, but the conformation to the status quo doesn’t allow us to do that, which is something that still speaks volumes to this day. The final track brings everything from the beginning home and still is resoundingly relevant to the modern world on its silver anniversary.

For me, this is the greatest top to bottom record ever produced. Its impact is unprecedented and is directly responsible for a whole generation of music. Its adoration has only grown fonder with age, like a fine wine. It tackled lyrics nobody else was tackling in a major way. There’s no filler and every song has a really solid message while the music jumps from style to style, incorporating everything for a melting pot of sound that’s complimented by a myriad of intonations in her vocals. She was only 21 years old when it was released.

Follow me on Twitter: @TheJameus

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