I meant to revisit Jagged Little Pill several months ago when Alanis Morissette rereleased it for its 20th anniversary. But, I will leave the timely reviews to the real columnists who will opine on why Jagged was such a breakout hit. They can wax nostalgic about how Morissette differentiated herself from the other angry 90s female artists that were relegated to MTV’s Alternative Nation. Meanwhile, Morissette’s pop background provided the catchy hooks to propel the album to release six radio singles and earn her five Grammys. For me, it’s about the memories. And the memories sparked by this album are bittersweet, making this revisit a little tough.
Whenever a song from Jagged Little Pill comes on the radio or pops up on my iPod, I immediately think about working late nights at McDonalds. I played the CD so much during closing shifts that I wore it out. While overtly angry and cynical, Morissette’s quintessential teenage angst album provided a soundtrack at very formative time. I was a teenager when this album hit; it was also the year my parents split and I related to the anger and frustration conveyed throughout the album. Desperately seeking stability during a crazy time, I turned to my coworkers and made a makeshift family. The workplace friendships I formed have drifted over the years, but they played a critical role in building me into the person I am today.
Brilliantly written, the entire album plays together beautifully. Themes of acceptance, rolling with the punches, finding peace within yourself, love and heartbreak are still relatable even 20 years later. Morissette, first and foremost is a lyricist, making every song sing along worthy. However, the grungy guitars and the drum machine don’t have me busting out my air guitar.
“One Hand In My Pocket” gives advice I still need to hear. “Everything is just fine.” I can’t tell you how many times I played that tune while cruising in my Vette (Chavette). Today when I hear the song, the carefree feeling I shared with my passenger has changed to a poignant memory of girl who has now passed.
Much of the album is about just dealing with whatever life throws at you. With the uncertainty that was my life at 17, I needed that reminder. One such song, “Ironic,” isn’t ironic, but holds true to the common themes of the album; no matter what, life happens, even with the best laid plans. In a similar vein, “You Learn” is about embracing every experience—good or bad— no matter how uncontrollable, you learn and grow from that experience. This is my favorite song on the album and it provides the album’s title. Beyond the meaningful lyrics, lies a beautiful melody and even a great guitar solo.
At 17, I thought I had all the answers and could relate to each lyric in every song. I don’t know who I was kidding. I barely even had a boyfriend, let alone understood the anger in songs like “You Oughta Know.” And I didn’t have a clue about what it felt like to be discounted and overlooked as described in “Right Through You.” Now, after many years in Corporate America, I get it, but I still haven’t experienced it.
“Mary Jane” continues the theme of accepting whatever life throws at you. Life is perpetual motion and you can’t stop moving no matter what. While the attitude is somewhat complacent, the song really stresses acceptance. 20 years ago, my co-workers helped me accept my situation: my parents were divorcing, I moved from my childhood home and I was thrown into chaos during my senior year. While I should have been focused on getting into college and enjoying all the things that come with being at the verge of completing childhood, I was thrown into a crazy home life. My friends made sure I still enjoyed a little rebellion that every teenager should experience: smoking my first cigarette, drinking my first beer, late night parties and just simple fun.
I really enjoy Alanis Morressette, I own everything in her catalog following Jagged. Her albums chronicle her life and the themes and tone have changed with her. Jagged Little Pill is among my top five favorites of all time. 20 years later, I still love listening to it and singing along. While Morissette’s angry vocals can get a little grating and even sound a little sharp, she makes up for it with top-notch songwriting.
While Facebook loosely keeps me in touch with some of the McDonald’s co-workers that were so crucial in keeping me sane; it’s at arm’s length. I hope if any of them are reading this now, they know what a key role they played in my life. Thank you for making sure I enjoyed a few moments of my teenage years.
Joy’s Jams Scale (Click here to see a description)
Sing Along Factor:
Air Guitar Ability: