Album cover for Alanis Morissette's Havoc And Bright Lights
With six full-length studio albums under her belt, and numerous other compilations and releases, Alanis Morissette has never actually disappointed. This is taking into account that her last release, 2008’s Flavors Of Entanglement, was her first to not contain any essential Alanis songs, despite being a decent record. On her newest album, Havoc And Bright Lights, there’s not likely to be anything entering into the realm of “classic Alanis” either. It merely suggests that to think of Alanis Morissette is to think of what has come before. Everything else is just to add to the overall collection.
In expected Alanis style, she sings a mouthful with lists of emotions and verbs. It all comes together on Numb, which is almost a caricature of what an Alanis song is. The rockiest track on the album, she announces “here comes a feeling.” Obviously. Seemingly, the overwhelming emotions that have come with her new motherhood have been comprised into this song where she sings: “This over-giving, over-loving, this caretaking goes on/With no chance of intermission, I’ll be checked out, I’ll be gone.” While Alanis is the first to express her absolute gratitude toward her new roles in life, she’s not rejecting the emotions that sometimes conflict with that.
The beautiful last track on Alanis’ last album four years ago, titled Incomplete, was her laying out her hopes for the future. “One day, I’ll be at peace/I’ll be enlightened and I’ll be married/with children and maybe adopt.” The foreshadowing from that song leads into what makes up this record. Its first single Guardian is Alanis taking on the new role. “I’ll be your keeper for life as your guardian/I’ll be your warrior of care/your first warden/I’ll be your angel on call/I’ll be on demand/the greatest honor of all, as your guardian.” Empathy is like the happy ending to Jagged Little Pill, nearly two decades later, where she’s thankful for having found someone: “There were so many times: thought I’d die not being truly known/There’ve been so many moments: forever lonely in my vocation.”
She does take a step away from her personal joys and feelings to offer thoughts about the external. Woman Down takes Alanis to what some might suggest a less-subtle level of feminism where she calls out to “all woman haters/We’ve lowered the bar on the behaviour that we will take,” as she presents a different take on each of the women being wronged wrapped up in what is the album’s catchiest song. Celebrity takes a critical look at the desire of fame where she sings lines like “I’ll carve my face up if you’ll indulge me,” and “I’ll cut my weight in two if you’ll have me.” It seems like it’s become a requirement for songwriters to attack the idea of celebrity in a song at some point in their career and it almost never comes out being anything more than feeling like biting the hand that feeds them, or in Alanis’ case, biting the hand that no longer feeds. The people this type of song would appeal to aren’t ones that will be lending Alanis their ear anytime soon so it’s definitely a flat moment on the record.
There’s no doubt that Alanis puts a lot into her lyrics on everything she’s done but the melodies on this record are lacking. There’s little on here that offers anything outstanding with the music and in the case of the track Havoc, the melody itself is direct from her So Called Chaos song Not All Me, just in a lower key. The songs that do stand out are the ones that feel like the closest relatives to her earlier songs with Guardian, Numb and Receive. The last of which is reminiscent of a Jagged Little Pill demo recording. It works well but still needs some additional tinkering.
Despite restraint in the production and melody, Havoc And Bright Lights does have worthy moments. Like So Called Chaos, from 2004, this record could have had a more suitable result with a different producer willing to deliver harder-hitting results. Even if it is considered Alanis’ “I’m happy” album, heavier drums and stronger melodies could make a world of difference and show that even if she’s settling down, she’s not becoming soft.
2. Woman Down
3. ‘Til You
10. Win And Win
12. Edge Of Evolution