'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Review: Alanis Morissette bares her heart in her first album in 8 years
We've come a long way from 'Jagged Little Pill' but Morissette remains supreme when it comes to writing music built around real life
Alanis Morissette has returned with her first studio album in eight years. 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' is a moving look into the highs and lows life has to offer and the singer's own journey of navigating it all.
Morissette first found moderate fame in Canada after releasing two dance-pop albums in the early '90s, but it was 1995's 'Jagged Little Pill', her third studio album and her international debut, that skyrocketed the singer to worldwide fame. From her unique, emotive voice to her lyrics that seemed to hit the nail on the head, no matter what she was singing about, it made Morissette one of the most acclaimed artistes to emerge from that decade. Rolling Stone would go on to dub Morissette the 'Queen of Alt-Rock Angst', which really sums up her entire musical vibe.
But despite putting out good music over the years, Morissette's debut has remained her most critically acclaimed work. There was something almost visceral about that album, which has ensured it remained both relevant and beloved decades later. To that end, Morissette has often been criticized for 'playing it safe' with her subsequent records, electing to continue singing about relatable experiences with some classic rock instrumentals backing her recognizable vocals. But that can often seem like an unfair assessment of her music, simply because the comparison to 'Jagged Little Pill' — which was a stroke of genius — is always going to be unfair. But with 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road', that comparison might be warranted. Morissette delivers a record that really speaks to the soul, backed, as always, by her poignant lyrics, vocals and music.
Album opener and previously released single 'Smiling' has Morissette waving her white flag after hitting rock-bottom in what she calls an "anatomy of (her) crash". Originally written for the 2018 musical, 'Jagged Little Pill', this is an extremely vulnerable song from the singer. Recounting her propensity to oscillate between dwelling at the bottom and seeking out the highs, Morissette declares she is surrendering to "a life of extremes". It's a fresh take on the age-old idea that with the good comes the bad and sometimes, we find we have to allow ourselves to fall and get back up again. And in the face of it all, Morissette keeps smiling. Following track 'Ablaze' is Morissette's promise to herself and her loved ones to "keep the light in your eyes ablaze". While 'Smiling' sets the tone musically and thematically for the rest of the album, 'Ablaze' is the song that conveys Morissette's purpose with this record: it's a light in dark and trying times.
'Reasons I Drink', the album's lead single is one of the more powerful songs off this release. Detailing the experience of needing alcohol, food, shopping and more to feel alive, Morissette shares how hard it is to rid herself of these 'addictions'. It's hard not to relate to this track as Morissette belts out: "And nothing can give reprieve like they do / Nothing can give a break for this soldier like they do." Ultimately, much like the singer, we're all soldiering on and in our need of respite what comforts us the most is often the vices that we can't shake off. And this hard-hitting emotional writing continues into tracks like 'Diagnosis', built around dealing with mental health issues and breakdowns, as well as 'Losing the Plot', which addresses the exhaustion that goes with trying to be strong and having to accept that you can't do it all, all the time.
And that, really, is the underlying theme that runs throughout this album: exhaustion. With life, with relationships, with oneself. Morissette has, essentially, channeled how hard it can be to get up and fight somedays and has given us the reprieve we often refuse to award ourselves. But as opposed to simply 'laying down her cape', Morissette delivers a 'Reckoning', declaring she will fight for herself; 'Sandbox Love', where she finds healing from trauma in the comfort of new love and friendship; and 'Her', where she seeks refuge in the archetypical mother goddess.
Morissette's vocals truly shine on 'Nemesis' which sees her grappling with exciting and dreadful change, acknowledging that her painful journey has all been for what comes next. Closing track 'Pedestal' however is where she shines lyrically. As she sings the lyrics, "And one day, you'll see that you've never really seen me... As this pedestal crumbles still and crashes me to the ground," it feels like she's speaking directly to anyone that decided her music had no worth if it wasn't another 'Jagged Little Pill' while never acknowledging that by constantly weighing all her work against a snapshot in her musical career, her critics created a 'pedestal' that was bound to crumble, which really only aided the singer's journey to rock-bottom. But, as 'Nemesis' eloquently points out, from that struggle came a metamorphosis and from that space came the wonderfully emotional 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road'.