Photo Credit: RCA Records
Alanis Morissette has been part of the cultural consciousness for some time now. Born in Ontario, Canada in 1974, Alanis was featured on a weekly kid’s show by the ’80s and was a pop star in her native country by the early ’90s. In 1993 Alanis Morrissette dropped an album that ran counter to the expectations her fans had based on the dance-oriented jams she had produced earlier. Jagged Little Pill, while radio-friendly was anything but bright and smiling. Full of songs about the bitterness of breakups, the fear and exhilaration that accompanies independence, and simple rage, Jagged Little Pill was at once a declaration of independence for an artist who had matured and found her voice and a rejection of Alanis’ bubblegum past. It was also a massive hit.
The eight albums that followed Jagged Little Pill, while each unique and distinct unto themselves, were all of a piece. Whether unplugged and intimate or brash and guest-filled, Alanis Morissette continued to make the sort of confessional, heartfelt, and honest music that her audience was introduced to first all the way back when Bill Clinton was still in office. Realistically, had she wished to, Ms. Morissette could have continued giving out a similar product, say, every three years or so, for as long as she cared to and her fans would have been delighted. She chose not to do that.
Alanis recently dropped an album titled The Storm Before The Calm. It is neither unplugged nor brash nor are the lyrics confessional, largely because there are no lyrics at all. The Calm Before The Storm is nearly 2 solid hours of wordless meditation music. Composed of 11 movements named “Light”, “Heart”, “Explore”, “Space”, “Purification”, “Restore”, “Awakening”, “Ground”, “Safety”, “Mania”, and “Vapor”, each track is meant to affect a meditative reaction in the brain. They are all shimmery and calming in the way that this type of music tends toward and by necessity must be. All with the startling exception of “Mania.” As the title would suggest, “Mania” is not a song conducive to relaxation as it is exactly as cacophonous and nerve-jangling as the song title suggests. I’m not sure why Alanis stuck that one on there, to be honest. Maybe it was some sort of Canadian joke that I’m too American to understand.
The Storm Before The Calm is an interesting album mostly because of who created it and what it means. You could make the case that this album is for Alanis Morissette’s oeuvre what Metal Machine Music was to Lou Reed’s. Or this album could be a by-product of Alanis Morissette’s ongoing spiritual journey; she has been a practicing Buddhist for many years. Or it might simply be that Ms. Morissette, as an artist and a human being, looked around at the general suchness of things and decided she would try her hand at making music to help people get to a place of quiet. This album does that. Except for “Mania.” Skip that track.