Before we begin let’s just get something clear.
I care not one jot about your opinion on Alanis Morissette or “Jagged Little Pill” if you are the kind of person who thinks that asking the barber to cut your hair like Liam Gallagher is a good idea.
I care even less about your opinion on Alanis Morissette or “Jagged Little Pill” if you are the kind of person who spends their time on Twitter making less than subtle comments on women in music that are, to be kind, unkind. You know who you are, multiple Tweets about how awful X, Y or Z girl band are but not a word about the latest tuneless dirge that four middle-aged men in anoraks have released.
And I really don’t care about your opinion on Alanis Morissette or “Jagged Little Pill” if you think pointing out the lack of irony in the lyrics to “Ironic” is either original or meaningful…it is neither. But we will get to that.
Have they gone?
We can begin.
“Jagged Little Pill” sold over thirty-three million copies.
Thirty-three MILLION copies.
Shall we put that into some sort of context?
The debut album from Oasis, “Definitely Maybe”, sold eight million copies.
That’s a lot of units to shift.
As a result it is, rightly, hailed as one of the greatest debut albums of all time.
The Stone Roses debut album which, again rightly, is hailed as one of the greatest albums of all time has sold around four million copies.
Pick a favourite album by a favourite band and, chances are, unless its the likes of the Liverpudlian boy band, The Droning Bones, Jacko or Madonna then it probably hasn’t sold THIRTY-THREE MILLION COPIES.
Some of them are still here.
Skulking in the shadows.
I can see you.
What’s that you are saying?
“Seventeen million people voted for Brexit mate…people go and see Michael McIntyre mate…Little Mix sell loads mate…sales don’t matter mate.”
First of all I’m not your mate.
Second of all Little Mix are great.
Thirdly…I don’t know what to tell you about Brexit.
Fourthly…yeah, the Michael McIntyre thing is weird.
I get it.
Most of my favourite records sold about a dozen copies, four of them to me. So record sales are not an indicator of the quality of the music…just look how many people bought “Stanley Road” by Paul Weller. Inexplicable. Totally inexplicable.
But what thirty-three million copies tells you is that this was about something more than just clever marketing or a gap in the market. To convince thirty-three million people to part with their hard earned for your music there has to be something more going on. There has to be a reason. Even the horror that is Coldplay have only ever shifted fifteen million copies of a single album (I’m glossing over their seventy-five million total album sales for the purposes of my argument).
The something that “Jagged Little Pill” had was intimacy. These were songs from the heart, delivered with fervour and honesty. This was soul music for Generation X…songs that looked to find healing through emotional candour. Too pop to be grunge or indie, too scuzzy to be pop. “Jagged Little Pill” was its own little thing and Morissette was her own little self.
While she had already released two albums in Canada (1991’s “Alanis” and 1992’s “Now Is the Time”) her international debut was a marked departure from the sound of both of those. The first of those albums saw her branded the Canadian Debbie Gibson…which couldn’t have done her confidence much good and the second one was deemed to be a commercial failure. That initial burst of success followed by less convincing record sales should have meant that the only people who would remember her were the record buying public of Canada. But, with her record deal concluded Alanis decided that she wasn’t finished yet…
After meeting manager Scott Welch she embarked on the journey that would lead to “Jagged Little Pill”. Writing with Glen Ballard and recording in his studio in Toronto the two secured a deal with Maverick Records in the Spring of 1995 and just a few months later the album, which most people at the label expected only to sell enough copies to allow her to record another, was released and a hurricane of success followed.
Much of the success that followed the release of the album begins with the love that K-ROQ had for the single “You Oughta Know”. With it’s brutal, raw, rage filled, rampaging lyric and murky, dreamy, pop and rock music the song was unlike anything else at the time…maybe ever. Certainly few other artists would write lyrics like; “And are you thinking of me when you fuck her?” or “Would she go down on you in a theatre?”. Morissette had announced her arrival on the global stage with a calling card that left everything out on the table. She was brave, she was original, she was unusual and she was…good.
At times her desire to bare her soul and leave her audience in no doubt as to how 4-Real she was meant that, like all real artists, she put that authenticity ahead of finding the perfection that is so often cherished by the general public. Think about the note perfect vocal histrionics of someone like Craig David…lot of notes being delivered in the way God intended but not a single honest moment to be heard. It’s coffee table music. Worse it is soul music without a soul. Then take something like “Perfect” and hear Morissette scream, wail and break as she delivers her tale of childhood and high expectations. This is not a performance to see you through to the next round of The Voice but it is, for anyone who has a heart, a performance of incredible emotional weight. This is where the real wonder of Morissette lies. She is an incredible singer but, for her, it is more important that the tale is told honestly than perfectly. Interestingly, and problematically for me given what I have just said, the vocal on the acoustic version of the album is cleaner, purer, more polished…
Two more singles from the album followed on from “You Oughta Know”; “All I Really Want” and “Hand in my Pocket”. They were big hits and helped to cement the album at the top of the pops across the world. “Hand in my Pocket” is one of those songs that leaves you with no choice but to sing along…a trite observation but a truthful one. It is also one of my all time favourite vocals. Few things bring me as much joy as singing “Cause I’ve got one hand in my pocket, and the other one is flicking a cigarette”. What can I tell you? I am a man of simple pleasures as well as of constant sorrow.
Then came “Ironic”.
Platinum in the UK.
Gold in the USA.
A chart smash across the world.
It was a massive hit.
Forget the bores who drone on…and on…and on…about the lack of irony in the lyrics.
This is rock ‘n’ roll not an English lit. class.
This is a foot stomper, a hand clapper, swooning, swirling, shouting and roaring crowd pleaser of a song. If you want anything more than that then I can’t help you but you should probably see a doctor as you may be dead.
I don’t trust people who don’t understand how great “Ironic” is.
It is soft like a whisper.
It roars like a crowd hailing a returning hero.
It packs more punch than Tyson Fury in a bad mood.
“Jagged Little Pill” is exactly that.
A pill to take when the world seems too jagged to deal with. When you need to know that there is someone else who is dealing with, I’m sorry, the shit this world can fling at you. When you need emotional purity and not parka clad swagger. When you want to sing along like a loon. When you feel like someone else oughta know…