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Alanis's 'Flavors of Entanglement' Could Use a Bit More Spice

Alanis's 'Flavors of Entanglement' Could Use a Bit More Spice


There's enjoyment to be found on the musician's latest work, but Louis Virtel wishes Alanis stretched herself further and delivered something fresher

When Alanis Morissette took three years to follow her juicy juggernaut debut, Jagged Little Pill, with a soft ode called "Thank U," her fanatical sweat-and-tears fan base responded with -- what else --sweaty, tearful confusion. Many fans were shocked by her embrace of "enlightenment" and "clarity" (among other New Age favorites) over the accusatory angst of her breakthrough hit "You Oughta Know." True, her second album, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, didn't exactly explode with trauma-spiked confessionals, but it revealed a tempered, mature version of the conscience and a questioning that actually helped define Jagged Little Pill. Morissette's musical purpose never depended on anger or a particular mood, but the need to respond to the chaos within and around her, even if no Full House cast member suffered implication.

For her fifth album of new material, Flavors of Entanglement, Morissette bubbles again with verses of self-help and choruses of therapeutic self-assertion. Still on songs like "Versions of Violence,"--a thunderous gem with ghostly droned vocals that otherwise rocks--we never really piece together what "shutting down and punishing, running from rooms, defending" quite means, or how they relate necessarily to violence. Other songs are easier to read, like "Tapes," where Morissette (again) sings self-sabotaging maxims like "I am someone easy to leave" or "I'm the one they all run from." Not only does it seem we're revisiting old diary entries, but we're rereading them verbatim.

Flavors of Entanglement owes its existence to relationship fallout, and if the tabloids are to believed, that means a lot of Morissette's breakup with Ryan Reynolds makes the cut here. On "Torch," Morissette coos, "These are the days of raw despondence" before listing everything she misses about her ex. "I miss your smell and your style and your pure abiding way.... / I miss your neck and your gait and your sharing what you write..."

Around this point in the album it's easy for Alanis die-hards to, well, miss the times when her lyrics weren't so predictably literal or her songs predictably structured, just as they were on her last album So-Called Chaos. These cuts eschew Morissette's knack for metaphor and cleverness entirely. In fact their straightforwardness only makes them sound self-satisfying. Well-articulated sincerity is fine, but without an image or moment to clasp onto (like the "fire trucks coming up around the bend" in her wonderful old hit "You Learn," or the "makeshift altars" from her underrated non-single "Baba") each tune ends up sounding generic--sad especially considering the album is produced by Guy Sigsworth of Madonna and Bjork fame.

Flavors of Entanglement also reiterates another unfortunate evolution in Morissette's oeuvre: a cloying sentimentality. If the titles of many of her songs don't scare newcomers off immediately ("Giggling Again for No Reason" and "In Praise of the Vulnerable Man" for starters), then the lyrics certainly will. "You, with your eyes mix strength with abandon," she states on "In Praise of..." Or, "I am a citizen of the planet / My president is Kwan Yin," she declares with an apparently Buddhist bite on "Citizen of the Planet." While Morissette never wavers from her signature cerebral spillage, she also never delves deeply enough into what inspires her sappy idealism.

Though the 11 songs percolate with churning chimes, flashy guitar downstrokes, and Morissette's beautiful, still inimitable voice, Flavors of Entanglement serves up a few too many conclusions with very little evidence. Morissette still resonates as a blazing, original artist with the songwriting chops to outdo even her onetime idols Tori Amos and Liz Phair. But with this album's tendency to sound self-important, the only success Morissette achieves is a personal catharsis, and not a musical triumph.

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Louis Virtel