March 15, 2002

From Under the Rug

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In an era of adolescent pop star lyrics and teenage singers pining over their latest high school crushes, Canadian musician Alanis Morissette returns with her third studio album, revitalizing the genre of passionate femme-rock. Written and produced independently under the Maverick recording label, Under Rug Swept, was created with the autonomous spirit that Alanis infuses into each of her songs.

Renowned for her angry emotive lyrics of past singles, such as “Right Through You,” Alanis has adhered to her feminine ideals, but has decided to curb some of the man-bashing in several of her songs on this album in lieu of more introspective ways of dealing with former lovers. As her melodic tirades traverse the album, they include every element from relatively upbeat hopes for future relationships to lamenting expressions of pain that have accumulated from previous experiences. Ranging from pensive to enlightened, from morose to joyous, from nostalgic to bittersweet, Alanis has managed to leave no emotion “under rug swept.”

The debut single from this album, “Hands Clean” has become a national chart-topper in the legacy of her other hit singles, such as “You Oughta Know” off her debut album, Jagged Little Pill. In “Hands Clean,” Alanis passionately sings about a past lover, who had been rumored to have sexually assaulted her. In evaluation of her lyrics, it seems that Alanis has used her album as an outlet for her pained past as her chorus states: “and I have honored your request for silence/ and you’ve washed your hands clean of this.”

Her album begins with the melodic wish list of “21 Things I Want in a Lover,” a song that relinquishes her angry femme diatribes to the more poppy discussion of “not necessarily needs but qualities that I prefer.” Adhering to her individuality, she expresses “I’m in no hurry I could wait forever/ I’m in no rush cuz I like being solo.” She then angrily resides in the tradition of femme stars, Tori Amos and Fiona Apple, in the second track “Narcissus” which, with electronic undertones, becomes a psychoanalytic harangue of a “momma’s boy,” a “show-me boy,” an “egotist boy,” a “self-centered boy.”

Alanis rides the harmonious swell of her album into more sedated, but nonetheless equally powerful and poignant ballads. Tracks such as “That Particular Time” depart from her usual anthems of revenge against masculinity, and offers heartfelt and soul-searching lyrics of apology and explanation. Similarly, “Flinch” offers a retrospective theme, as Morissette tries to detach herself from the past. “Precious Illusions,” a track with a bit more momentum, also deals with escaping from the past: ” these precious illusions in my head/ did not let me down when I was defenseless/ and parting with them is like/ parting with invisible best friends.”

Throughout the album, Morissette explores not only her ability to find a balance between her reputation as an ultra-femme heroine of man-haters and the natural tendencies of human vulnerability, but she finds a balance between different styles of musicality. The range of her stylistic attempts is apparent towards the concluding tracks on the album. While the second-to-last track, “Surrendering,” is an upbeat, pop-rock tune in the vein of other top-100 female artists, such as Jewel, the last track of the album delves into a musical sphere that Alanis had never before entered.

High-pitched “Utopia” abandons her somewhat nasal style and embodies an almost Celtic lilt of ethereal tone in the tradition of groups like The Cranberries. With Enya-like messages of harmony, the chorus, “this is utopia this is my utopia/ this is my ideal my end in sight/ utopia this is my utopia/ this is my nirvana/ my ultimate” interjects a list of utopian ideals that seem entirely appropriate to our current international crisis. The last lines of her album are “we’d hold close and let go and know when to do which/ we’d release and disarm and stand up and feel safe.”

The entire album embodies hints of self-reflective discovery and recovery from the pain that had supposedly been inflicted upon her in the past. In “So Unsexy,” her raspy lyrics proclaim, “oh these little rejections how they disappear quickly/ the moment I decide not to abandon me.” It is apparent that Alanis definitely did not abandon herself as she comes into her own with this eleven-track, self-produced, chart-topping album, complete with enhanced CD features, permitting registered access to Alanis’s secret web site. This album, in terms of Morissette’s linguistic originality, is definitely worth keeping from being “under rug swept.”

Archived article by Barbara Seigel