As cliché as it may sound, there’s something about bad breakups that channels good art. Back in 1995 former teen pop queen and Ottawa native Alanis Morissette handily proved this on her anguished “rock debut,” Jagged Little Pill. Nowhere was this more evident than on the megahit single “You Oughta Know” which served to warn cheating, lying straight men everywhere of the new female rage. (It came out later that the song was written about Dave Coulier, Uncle Joey from TV’s worst show ever, Full House, but let’s forget that disturbing little nugget of information).
Fast-forward to 2008 and Alanis has experienced a very public breakup from movie heartthrob and fellow Canadian Ryan Reynolds, which has been channelled into her new disc, Flavours of Entanglement. Only this time that disappointment and hurt has been artfully crafted into an album that embraces and confronts anger with maturity. Not to mention dance beats and electronic flourishes courtesy of producer Guy Sigsworth, best known for his work with Frou Frou (with Imogen Heap), Björk and Madonna.
First single “Underneath” is a gorgeous radio-friendly track; nice but not truly representative of the album in general. On “Straitjacket,” Morissette confesses, “This shit’s making me crazy” and “Who do you think you’re talking to with such fucking disrespect?” over a pulsing techno grind. It’s an angry song yet the production (read: lack of screaming guitars) softens it — that’s the interesting dichotomy of Entanglement overall.
The best moments come on the second half of the disc. “In Praise of the Vulnerable Man” is one of the best songs she’s ever written. “You. Are the greatest man I’ve ever met/ The setter of new precedents/ This is in praise of the vulnerable man/ Why won’t you lead the rest of your cavalry home?” You get the sense that you’re a long way from Jagged’s unfocused rage. The word mature comes to mind.
“Torch” is the album’s stunner, though. On it she lays down all the things she misses about her estranged lover: “These are not times for the weak of heart/ These are the days of raw despondence/ I never dreamed I would have to lay down my torch for you like this.” Pass the Kleenex, it’s heartfelt, graceful and nothing if not sincere in the purest way. Sigsworth has injected Alanis’s sound with a freshness and vitality not heard from her in years. In the Alanis discography Entanglement is essential.