Get into a relationship with Alanis Morissette and you will probably end up as the theme of one of her songs. On her third studio album, Under Rug Swept, Morissette continues to tackle her relationships with men and herself via her unique blend of acute self-analysis, word play, and an engaging mix of acoustic and electronic elements.
The album, her latest since 1999’s Unplugged, marks the first time that Morissette produces an album on her own. Even without the assistance of veteran producer and overused music guru Glen Ballard, Morissette is able to exude the charm and inner-hippie that have made her previous efforts so addictive.
The album opens with a rip-roaring guitar and a verbose assault with 21 Things I Want In A Lover. The song resembles a personal ad that describes the qualities Morissette doesn’t “need” but “prefers” in her ideal mate. Despite her long list of demands, Morissette’s brand of charisma and idealism are able to make her delivery free of any hubris and the “angry white female” label she was inappropriately branded with after her breakout hit You Oughta Know.
Morissette is at her artistic peak with songs like A Man. On this haunting track she places herself in the male sex, uses religious imagery, and employs a pounding guitar to add dramatic emphasis to her lyrics. The song can be interpreted as an incarcerated man’s struggle to make sense of his life that is to be “served as a sentence.” Whatever it may be, the song goes beyond the pop music realm and hints of transcendental thinking.
One of Morissette’s flaws is the superfluous allusions to past relationships that pervade the album and render her lyrics unnecessarily vague. Without any palpable real-life examples it can be difficult to identify with many of the songs such as on Flinch, which seems to go nowhere and hints at issues she has with her father.
The tale of yet another one of Morissette’s lovers gone wrong, Narcissus, is the album’s catchiest tune. The see-saw chorus mirrors the love/hate emotions that she feels for this “mamma’s boy” who’s “a stranger to the concept of reciprocity.”
Released over the Internet after Sept. 11’s terrorist attack, the album’s final track, Utopia, is a lush hymn to peace, love, and brotherhood. Enya would approve and probably officially sponsor this soothing paean to the Elysium that Morissette, an avid philanthropist, envisions.
Morissette has always had a problem with her syntax. That’s a good thing, though. In an attempt to match every lyric to her musical arrangement, words are switched out of their proper grammatical order and produce an uncontrived effect of artistic eccentricity.
In fact, Morissette even pronounces a lot of her words differently than would most people (it might be the Canadian in her) such as on the internal rhymes of You Owe Me Nothing In Return which features Meshell Ndegeocello on bass. The optimism that pervades the music and lyrics on songs like the uplifting Surrendering is endearing and refreshing, even if it is about one of Morissette’s many men.
Morissette’s vocals prove stellar throughout the album – shifting from quavering and vulnerable, as on the confessional piano-laden That Particular Time, to bold and jovial.
Under Rug Swept is more structured and cohesive than her long-winded Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie album, but not as poignant as her masterpiece debut, Jagged Little Pill. While Morissette proves a work in progress, she is arguably one of the best singer/songwriters in the mainstream music industry and seems a safe bet to continue delivering classics like this one.