Great things can come out of So-Called Chaos.
When Alanis Morissette first burst upon the global music scene in the mid-Nineties, she created a truly massive commotion. She did so by dramatically reinventing the role of confessional singer-songwriter for a whole new generation of music lovers. On many levels--sonic, psychic, commercial and cultural--the impact of Morissette's 1995 album Jagged Little Pill was tremendous. The album--produced with Morissette's collaborator Glen Ballard--sold more than thirty million copies around the world and became one of the most successful recordings in music history. That success quickly transformed Morissette--previously a moderately known singer and actress in her native Canada--into perhaps the most talked-about artist in the world. With just one album of deeply felt songs intimately chronicling her own often-bumpy ride into adulthood, Morissette became, at age 21, a global superstar and a spokesperson for her generation.
Before long, Morissette also established herself as a live performer of rare intensity, and earned the respect of fans wherever she performed. In 1996, she received Grammys for Album of the Year and Rock Album, as well as Female Rock Vocal Performance and Rock Song of the Year for "You Oughta Know," the explosive song of love and rage that helped kick off the commotion in the first place.
In the years that have followed that initial breakthrough, Morissette has continued to bravely and unflinchingly chronicle her own journey in powerful ways on 1998's Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, 199's Unplugged, 2002's Under Rug Swept and that same year's CD/DVD offering Feast on Scraps. Along the way, she's also found time to act, on the big screen (a memorable role as God in Kevin Smith's film Dogma and the upcoming musical De-Lovely), in acclaimed TV shows ("Sex and the City," "Curb Your Enthusiasm") and off-Broadway ("Vagina Monologues," "The Exonerated"). And in recent years, Morissette has also taken on considerable charitable and civic-minded work in her impressive attempt to raise consciousness as well as funds for assorted good causes.
On her latest effort So-Called Chaos, Morissette sounds paradoxically like a woman who has found her own separate peace with the world. A deeply thoughtful individual by nature, So-Called Chaos finds her in a life-affirming, positive place, making music that in a sense sums up her past strengths along with some newfound maturity and perspective. "I may still be talking about things in my life that were challenging," she explains, "but I'm approaching life and thereby my songs with less blame."
Morissette's previous studio album Under Rug Swept, which featured the riveting hit "Hands Clean," found the singer-songwriter taking the production reins and delivering arguably her most accomplished album up until that point. This time around, Morissette chose to share the responsibilities behind the board and the results are extremely impressive. She sets her free-flowing vocals, luminescent melodies and fervent introspection in a seamless mix of rock, pop, folk, electronic and Eastern stylings. "I had spent a few years rising to my own occasion in terms of wanting to see, out of curiousity, what producing a record on my own would be like," Morissette explains. "Then once I tasted what that was like, I realized my favorite aspect of making a record was the writing of it."
And so for So-Called Chaos, Morissette returned to a more collaborative recording approach. "This way was so much more relaxing for me," she explains. "I actually wound up doing the first phase of the recording and producing with my friend Tim Thorney whom I've known since I lived in Toronto as a teenager. Then after we did that initial phase of recording, John Shanks came in and offered his objective take on things. We wound up being a team, with John and Tim and I doing it together in different phases.
The sessions for So-Called Chaos--held primarily at Groove Masters studio in Santa Monica, California--featured performances from Morissette's touring band (guitarists David Levita and Jason Orme; bassist Eric Avery; keyboardist Zac Rae' and drummer Blair Sinta) as well as some favorite associates of Shanks, including drummer Kenny Aronoff. The resulting album is a set of Morissette's most adult and compelling songs, compositions that more than ever explore life's emotional dualities. "I do tend to explore both sides of an argument on someof the songs here," she confesses. "Either that interests me as a person and a writer or I'm a schizophrenic. Of course, both may be true."
Of the opening "Eight Easy Steps," Morissette says, "it's my taking responsibility and busting my own chops at the same time--essentially finding the gifts in all the struggles that I've been through. Until I found the gifts of my struggles, I would still be stuck in that resentful place, that victim place. But as soon as I found the good that came of those circumstances, I could actually enjoy them for what they were, and bless them as opposed to feeling wounded by them for the rest of my life. The song is my way of looking at it all objectively, and then also just making fun of myself."
According to Morissette, the gorgeous "Out is Through" was written "with a little resignation on my part. I can conceptually and intellectually say I'm up for the really courageous work that it takes to make a romantic relationship work. And at the same time I would often find myself sabotaging things and creating a relationship's end, while thinking that it was circumstantial. Really it was just part of me that wasn't really ready myself. This song is my way of saying I'm ready to actually walk my walk now."
Another song of self-analysis, "Excuses" is for Morissette, "me bringing into the light certain negative and unconscious thoughts that were running my life. I think that's one of the biggest responsibility-taking songs. And it's also potentially one of the most embarrassing songs too, because it's pretty transparent in terms of some of the uglier thoughts that were really driving the car for a while."
Far more pleasant and romantic thoughts pervade "Knnes of My Bees," a lovely and playful love song. "I wanted to find a way to express how infatuated and how in love with my boyfriend I was," she reveals. "The title was something I actually said to him several times in conversation--'You make the knees of my bees weak.'...so that line is very precious to me."
Another lyricist might simply call their beloved "the bee's knees," but characteristically, Morissette finds a way to make the language of love feel fresh. "I think part of the reason I like playing with phrases is because the English language bores me a little bit," she explains. "Obviously, everything has been said before backwards and forwards millions of times, so I want to play with it in the same way that someone would play with paints."
The wordplay is a tad more formal for "Doth I Protest Too Much." As Morissette explains, "It's hard for me not to notice in myself--and in others--is that that which we protest very much about is often the exact thing that we would benefit from truly admitting and surrendering to. So if I'm really trying hard to convince someone that I am not scared, you can know that it means that I'm exactly scared. And that song is my humorously outing myself or busting myself again."
"Not All Me" was written in the middle of what Morissette calls "a very conflicted time for me in a relationship. I've been really tolerant and patient most of my life with people being angry and projecting a lot of their anger onto me. I just started reaching a point where I thought it would benefit me--and the relationship--to set my limit or boundaries with that. Basically the song is about asking the other person to take responsibility for their part in a very firm yet kind way."
The title track to So-Called Chaos is a song about the biggest of pictures. "With the low level of consciousness that we're at on this planet, we are in need of police and arbitrators, laws and rules. My thought in 'So-Called Chaos' was that if our consciousness was raised, we wouldn't need all that. We wouldn't need to be regulated from the outside--we'd be able to be regulated from the inside based on a respect of life and knowing that we're all connected. That song is me pointing towards that in a three-minute way."
"This Grudge"is about the mystery of the concept of forgiveness. "It's always been such a popular little word, and always so confusing to me," Morissette admits. "I conceptually understood what forgiveness meant, but I didn't know how the f--- to really do it. Forgiveness sounds like such a great concept on paper, yet when I would try to go do it, I felt like it was just saying the words and not experiencing it with this person. That song is really just allowing me to show my readiness to truly forgive."
"These are by far my scariest and darkest shadows," Morissette says of "Spineless," a song exploring the fear of weakness. "I've been so afraid of being the things I sing about in this song. The gift of my terror of being a disempowered female is that it led me to become a forthright and courageous feminist and activist. Part of what made me so compulsive about being so strong is that I'm terrified of being weak, of being the other archetype for women-mute and meek. I felt like at least singing about it started me down the path of being able to integrate those parts of me so that they don't run my life, that I'm not compulsively strong all the time, that I can balance a softness and vulnerability with my strength and empowerment."
Finally, there is "Everything"--the first single from So-Called Chaos and a song that offers the same grand expansiveness of another of Morissette's past classics, the Grammy-winning "Uninvited" from the City of Angels soundtrack. "That song is basically the crux of my own inner work and training over the last couple of years where my goal is not so much to be good, as much as it is to be whole. That's my goal--to be all these parts of myself. I remember as a young girl all the way up till today, I would always write in my journal, 'All parts,' 'All parts.' My fantasy--my highest vision--was that at some point in my life not only would I feel all parts of myself were accepted by other people, but that I would accept those parts. So this song is my chronicling my ongoing journey toward wholeness. And in that way it is the ultimate love song. It's the ultimate love song to someone else, and it's the ultimate love song to myself. To even play it back, it just shifts my cells."
Morissette is excited to take the songs from So-Called Cahos on the road and shift some cells for audiences too. "I am beside myself with anticipation to tour," she says. "I'm really excited to travel the world even more than I have over the last couple of years. In keeping with wanting my life to be a little bit more balanced, I'd love to make it that I'm touring whether I have a record out or not, and the tours themselves won't be breakneck year-and-a-half tours. I choose to balance everything out a little bit more."
"We also recorded 14 acoustic songs from the last five records--including this one--with the intention of releasing that mid-year. I am inspired to balance my energy expenditure and my energy rejuvenation, regardless of waht it is that I'm doing with my days."
At the heart of So-Called Chaos is a woman coming to terms with who she is as an artist and as a person. It's an album that powerfully documents a woman driven to ask big questions. "For me, one big question is, 'What is my life's purpose?' My life purpose is to inspire courage and compassion and the raising of consciousness on this planet, so then every little thing that I do, whether it's a conversation I have, or a relationship that I nurture, a tour that I go on or a song that I write--it serves me to see how in alignment it is with my purpose. My choices are a lot easier to make when I have my purpose to reference."
So-called Chaos is music that comes from a woman with great talent and an even greater sense of purpose.
By David Wild, 2004 - from the official Maverick Records web site.
--- from the official Alanis Morissette website