Equilibrium is something Alanis Morissette has struggled to achieve her whole volatile career. With Havoc and Bright Lights, due out Aug. 28, the tangle-haired singer-songwriter continues her pursuit of balance, dealing with her first marriage (to rapper Souleye) and the birth of her first child (son Ever). The evolving artist takes us through the album, track by track.
“I’ll be your angel on call, I’ll be on demand” – Guardian, a dynamic big-chorused rocker in a style typical of Morissette, addresses the balancing act of parenthood.
“The chorus is about my son, and to protect his safety and his freedom. It’s a delicate dance of mom- and dad-hood. Also, what I noticed was the disparity between what I was offering him and what I was offering myself. A child watches how their parents treat themselves. I don’t want to be extending this love to him and then him seeing this long-suffering shell of a woman in front of him as his mom.”
The disc’s most stylish track, this disco-Madonna number throws down a sternly delivered warning – “calling all woman haters, we’ve lowered the bar on the behaviour we will take” – and a reprise straight out of U2’s Zooropa.
“The whole conversation for me is around patriarchy and misogyny and chauvinism going the way of all things, and not a moment too soon. It’s just talking about how that’s transitioning in 2012. Women, heaven forbid, are actually being championed and celebrated for who they are born to be.”
Til You does not refer to Sarah McLachlan, despite its airy balladic similarity to that singer’s manner. It is, as you might imagine, a Morissette kiss to the forehead of her husband.
“Yes, it’s my first bona fide love song, without some tinge of conflict or despair thrown in there. Although there is some retrospection. I can’t help myself with my integrated approach, having lots of false starts and a lot of frogs, and a lot of my attempting to be who I wasn’t in order to make harmony prevail in a relationship. I can’t even express how relieving it was to finally not only have enough self-knowledge to manifest a committed monogamous relationship, but the relaxation that comes from that.”
Tribal rhythms set the tone for a brooding treatise on the blind pursuit of renown.
“I had to poke holes in the idea that fame is the best thing to aspire to. You know, the American value system is to stay 21 and be rich and be famous. I’m offering the idea that there might be about 30 other value systems that could be lovely to seek, in general.”
With this keening piano-set pop tune, Alanis says Thank U again.
“I think empathy is built into a woman’s biological makeup. The two qualities that disappear in the face of narcissism are curiosity and empathy. And curiosity and empathy are such connected qualities. When we’re curious, we’re willing to step into the shoes of another person. And when we’re in the shoes of another person, the natural offshoot of that is to be empathetic.”
With the anthemic sing-along agnosticism of Lens – “so now it’s your, your religion against my, my religion; my humble opinion ’gainst yours” – Morissette disses dogma.
“The Western idea that there is a right and wrong way to do things leaves people disconnected from each other. Because it implies we’re going to invalidate each other’s perspectives and lenses.”
Why is the word “spiral” always linked to “downward.” Morissette’s catchy tune is a two-way staircase.
“The most important theme here is the last line of the chorus, the whole idea of reaching out to someone. Yes, personal empowerment and personal connection with spirit and self – let’s foster that. And let’s foster personal responsibility That’s lovely, high fives. But we’re social creatures. A sense of autonomy is lovely, but forgoing interdependence for some steely independence forgoes the opportunity for intimacy, connection, love and the healing of the planet.”
An intense drone of Morissette mope: “I feel anxious, I am nervous, I am bored, I’m overwhelmed – rather be out of my gourd.” In short, she’d rather be Numb.
“I think drugs are just doing their jobs. They’re super neutral. It’s really about why we would do them, and what we’re running from and what we don’t want to feel.”
A gentle plea, from someone slipping and wreaking chaos.
“It goes back to the verses of Guardian, about not having the inner parent. It’s easy for me to say that I’m just going to do this, and that I’m going to fall off the proverbial wagon. The line ‘lax in my steps’ is about being lax in my steps toward growth and healing, but it’s also a wink to the recovery community. Food addiction and love addiction and work addiction are my three Achilles heels.”
Win and Win
Soft, introspective and tabla-flecked, Win and Win touches on the singer’s relationship with her twin brother and concerns partnership, not competition.
“It’s about the idea of us being taught that we either have to be better than people or worse than people. The new school, whether it’s with record companies or whether it’s with marriages or twin siblings, the whole idea is that it has to be win-win or no deal. That’s the way of the future I think.”
Learning “how to receive, how to receive,” is not about football punt-catching, but a new mother adjusting to different demands.
“It’s not uncommon, the whole idea of my solitude and my self-care practice falling a little lower on the list of priorities. It’s mandatory, you know? New marriage, new child, the huge vocation of servicefullness. But I do believe in the age-old thing that if you’re not taking care of yourself, you don’t have as much to offer.”
Edge of Evolution
The album ends with another low-verse/high-chorus song.
“My raison d’être is to support other people in going to the next place, wherever that is. And to the degree I have energy to do it, I’ll offer it. And when I don’t, I need to go to the spa.”