Although it is figuratively the eve of the release of Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie — the much-anticipated follow-up to 1995’s multiplatinum, Grammy-and-other-award-winning Jagged Little Pill — it is literally daytime. Alanis Morissette, 24, is sitting, yoga-style, on a futon on the floor of the light-filled, minimally furnished beach house she rents outside Los Angeles, where she also owns a home. Behind her a picture window frames sand, surf, sky and a very well-placed rock. Her hair is pulled back, and she is wearing a light-purple tank top and jeans. She has the remnants of some gold nail polish on her toes, and one bra strap, white, is showing. Her demeanor is serene in a way that makes you understand why someone (specifically, Chasing Amy director Kevin Smith) would cast her as God in a movie (specifically, the upcoming Dogma, which stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as angels who have been cast out of heaven). She has the kind of poised, attentive posture usually seen only on dancers and shy woodland animals in animated Disney features. On a more practical note, downstairs there is a pingpong table.
Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie is very clearly the creative companion piece to Jagged Little Pill — even its title references its predecessor’s first and best-known single, the obsession-inflected, last-word-having “You Oughta Know” (which, by mentioning oral sex, blinded the media to all other meaning, thereby setting a trend). Although it addresses many of the same themes as Jagged Little Pill — the pressures and insecurities that underlie perfectionism; the fallout from relationships that don’t work out; the quest for self-understanding — the somewhat lusher, vaguely Eastern-influenced Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie does so from a more consciously spiritual, more consciously positive perspective. One of the things that sets Morissette apart from the other twentysomething singer-songwriters with whom she is often and inaccurately lumped is that she writes from the point of view of someone searching for meaning in a meaningful, rather than a meaningless, world. She’s not angry in the punk-rock, fuck-you tradition; she’s in touch with her anger.
Morissette was born in Ottawa and grew up there after the age of six. (Before that the family moved several times, including to Germany when Morissette was three.) She has two brothers, one older, one her twin. Her parents — Alan, a high school principal, and Georgia, a teacher — are, respectively, French-Canadian and Hungarian, and there are loving songs about both of them on Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. In “The Couch” she imagines her father’s feelings in, and about, therapy; in “Heart of the House” she honors her mother as the unsung (until now) silent center of the family. “I think the greatest gift you can give your parents as a grownup,” she says, “is to see them as grown-ups instead of the gods they seemed like when you were little.”
Something of a musical child prodigy, Morissette began writing songs when she was nine. At ten she became a cast member on Nickelodeon’s You Can’t Do That on Television, a sort of preteen ensemble sketch show with postmodern leanings and a recurrent bit in which someone got doused with buckets of slime. As “Alanis,” she played the love interest of the two lead boys, thus becoming the recipient of lots of hate mail from her contemporaries. (Maybe because of this, when she became a Canadian pop star at sixteen, Morissette felt she had to deflect attention from her achievements in music to avoid antagonizing her high school classmates.)
With her TV earnings, she formed her own record label and released her first single, “Fate Stay With Me.” (“It’s about someone leaving me and me trying to handle being alone,” she says. “A fiction — or so I thought.”) A deal with MCA/Canada followed, which produced two dance-pop albums: 1991’s Alanis, which won a Juno (Canada’s Grammy equivalent) for Most Promising Female Artist, and 1992’s Now Is the Time, which belied that promise by selling a disappointing 50,000 copies. Seeking a new musical direction, she moved first to Toronto and then to Los Angeles, where she hooked up with her co-producer and co-writer Glen Ballard, a veteran of the L.A. studio scene whose previous credits ranged from Michael Jackson to Wilson Phillips. The result was the hook-y, sensual sound of Jagged Little Pill, the explosive, expressive jailbreak of a record that powered past critical suspicions to the kind of popular success (28 million records sold worldwide) that can’t be predicted or even totally explained.
Morissette and Ballard took the same gunslinging approach to making Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie as they had to the last album, laying down seventeen tracks in six weeks. “It was written much the same way that Jagged Little Pill was written, in that everything was done very quickly,” she says. “Working alone or with Glen, I’d write it all at the same time, whether it was on bass or guitar or piano — music and lyrics all at once. And then we’d do most of the tracks right away just to capture the spirit. And then, every once in a while, I would write the lyrics — or poem or words or whatever it is when there’s no music with it — and I would bring it to the studio.”
The result is a river of DN A-shaped, diaristic songs that derive their strength from their sense of immediacy. As on her previous record, Morissette is inclined to write songs about Big Issues — gratitude, God’s relationship to man, reasons to continue living, self-acceptance, ex-boyfriends — and she does so without shame, which usually implies a willingness to show your sins, and here implies a willingness to show your sincerity. Her lyrics are at once so basic and so specific — “Are you still mad I kicked you out of bed? Are you still mad I gave you ultimatums? Are you still mad I compared you to all my forty-year-old male friends?” begins one song — that, weirdly, they achieve universality and self-revelation at the same time.