Confession is good for the soul, and it's often good for singer-songwriters. In her 1995 Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morissette established herself at age 21 as one of the most absorbing pop arrivals in years by digging deep inside to share memories that were, by turns, raw, painful and cleansing. The collection sold about 30 million copies worldwide and won a Grammy for album of the year.
Morissette was staggered by the success, and in the 1998 follow-up, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, she again dug deep to try to understand why all the good fortune hadn't erased her long-standing lack of self-esteem.
The result was a wonderfully liberating collection of songs about inner peace that enabled us to identify with her feelings as easily as we had in the first album. In the magical "Thank U," she reminded us that we can find strength from even life's most difficult moments. "Thank you terror, thank you disillusionment, thank you frailty, thank you consequence, thank you silence," she sang, recalling the inspiring grace of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush's most moving music.
Morissette - handling both the writing and production assignments this time after co-writing the first two with producer Glen Ballard - is again in a confessional mood on Under Rug Swept (due in stores tomorrow), but the results are mixed. The music's textures remain in an aggressive pop-rock style, but they sometimes seem adrift rather than dynamically focused.
Morissette's lyrics deal again with troubled relationships and matters of self-esteem. Some of it works nicely, including the tuneful "So Unsexy," the idealistic, socially conscious "Utopia" and the introspective "This Particular Time."
But too much of the album is more wearisome than revealing. In "21 Things," she spells out just what she expects from a relationship, going through such a long list of complaints about former beaus that it's almost comical.
It's not a bad idea for a song, but the lyrics seem like something jotted in a journal rather than tailored for a song. "Do you have a big intellectual capacity but know that it alone does not equate wisdom?" might be a valid thought for the song, but there must be a more graceful way to express it.
Morissette remains a major talent who understands the importance of exploring private feelings, but she needs to make the findings more universal.
Robert Hilburn is pop music critic for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing Newspaper.
Under Rug Swept
Sun score: **1/2