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Music Review: Out Is Through – Alanis Morissette’s ‘So-Called Chaos’ Turns 10

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Nine years after the movement-defining Jagged Little Pill (Maverick, 1995), Alanis Morissette could not be contained to the “alt angst” label. This might have come as a shock to a certain segment of her fans, but the Canadian songstress was concerned with her albums reflecting her inner truth rather than another’s idea of it.

With her sixth LP, So-Called Chaos (Maverick, 2004), Morissette continued her journey into her own womanhood. True, its impetus was romance ― actor Ryan Reynolds was the suitor ― but So-Called Chaos followed a similarly refined trail blazed by its predecessors, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (Maverick, 1998) and Under Rug Swept (Maverick, 2002).

Alanis Morissette, So-Called Chaos, alternative, rock, popArguably her most compact album, at just 10 songs, So-Called Chaos remained dynamic in its prose and production (this time courtesy of John Shanks and Tim Thorney).

Devotees of Morissette’s harder sound need not have worried. The snarling sass of Jagged Little Pill kicked off So-Called Chaos on the deprecating “Eight Easy Steps”― later the final single from this set. A “self-help” guide to emotional human error, Morissette’s seething vocal style was accessorized with a splash of Eastern flavor. Akin to the feel of “Eight Easy Steps” on this LP were the title cut and “Spineless.”

While those three songs were compelling, it was the softer sides that really let Morissette stretch out. “Everything” was the hit and the first single from the album in the spring of 2004; it was a soaring rock ballad of “love conquers all” without the syrup, but plenty of heart.

Morissette further fleshed out her new perspective on “Out Is Through,” “Excuses,” and “Doth I Protest Too Much.” The latter portrayed both insecurity and self-awareness in a way that was nothing short of captivating: “I’m not threatened, by every pair of legs you watch go by. I don’t cringe when you stare at women, it’s just a thing called guy. I’m not jealous, I don’t get moved by much. I’m not enraged, not insecure as such. Not going insane, rational stays in touch. Doth I protest too much?”

The sound of So-Called Chaos was Morissette’s own pop configuration – a healthy blend of electric and acoustic guitars, the stated Eastern flourishes and programming made for a brisk, inviting palette.

When the album made its debut in May of 2004, critics were somewhat nonplussed, unfortunately. Many were still hankering for the sweet and sour taste of Jagged Little Pill, though it must be said that if Morissette had delivered a second album in that vein, commentators would have accused Morissette of creative laziness. The record also marked a continued sales softening, though it performed respectably overall. The LP also gifted Morissette with her last American radio hit in “Everything.”

In the end, Morissette stayed true to her personal and musical vision, something increasingly rare in popular music. So-Called Chaos aptly soundtracked Morissette’s trek into herself, romance, and that crazy thing called life.

Watch the Meiert Avis-directed music video for “Everything.

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About Quentin Harrison

Quentin Harrison is a Dayton reared and (for now) Atlanta based writer. Writing for eight years, his works have appeared in the Dayton City Paper and reissued CDs for Big Break Records, Gold Legion, and Soul Music Records. Quentin runs The QH Blend (http://theqhblend.wordpress.com/) where his thoughts on music can be found. Quentin considers himself to be the Charles Barkley of pop music commentary.