Stripping down songs to their essence is the ideal of MTV's Unplugged
series, and the concept has worked beautifully on occasion, with memorable
performances over the years from luminaries such as Nirvana, Neil Young,
Elvis Costello and Tori Amos. But others didn't fare as well (think 10,000
Maniacs, KISS, Sheryl Crow) when they peeled away the bombast and stood
near-naked in the spotlight's glare. While Alanis Morissette doesn't manage to create something entirely new from her slim body of work just two albums worth she handles herself respectably enough during this
The 12 tracks chosen from the performance at New York's Brooklyn Academy
of Music include three previously unreleased songs ("No Pressure Over
Cappuccino," "Princess Familiar," "These R the Thoughts"). The ruminative
"No Pressure Over Cappuccino" finds Morissette dissecting a hapless person
who bears a suspicious resemblance to any number of celebrities. She sings,
"You're like a '90s Jesus and you revel in your psychosis," before relenting
by song's end, sighing, "Is it just me or are you fed up? God bless you
in your travels, in your conquests and queries." The slyly wicked "Princes
Familiar" is a litany of personality traits one might find in a potential
Prince Charming. And again, in the end the singer relents, admitting, though
somewhat grudgingly, "I love the way you press my buttons so much sometimes
I could strangle you." "These R the Thoughts" details what goes through
Morissette's head when she has "the house to myself and I am not expending
all that energy on fighting with my boyfriend." She lays these naked
thoughts out one by one for the listener to examine, ranging from sometimes
awkwardly-phrased big question ("Why cannot I live in the moment?") to
the types of queries one might pose to a Magic 8 ball ("Will I ever move
back to Canada again?").
And then there are the hits. "You Oughta Know" (RealAudio
excerpt) the breakthrough growl that exhilarated women and scared
the pants off men when it exploded off her debut album Jagged Little
Pill in 1995 is given new life by a more contemplative delivery.
Morissette manages to make the vitriol of a woman tossed aside for a new
lover poignant while retaining the diatribe's raw emotion. There's a real
sense of building fury that perfectly captures the feeling of being kicked
in the gut by betrayal when she asks, "And every time you speak her name,
does she know that you said you'd love me until you died? But you're still
alive." It's a neat trick to make this song fresh, and Morissette pulls
it off nicely.
Other songs don't fare as well, partly due to the irritating habit the
singer has of gasping, partly due to the occasional thinness of her voice,
and partly due to the naivete and downright silliness of some of her lyrics.
The non-ironic examples in the song "Ironic" are still howlers ("It's like
rain on your wedding day, it's a free ride when you've already paid") and
should perhaps be put out of their misery once and for all. The
self-affirmation of "That I Will Be Good" (RealAudio
excerpt), from her sophomore album Supposed Former Infatuation
Junkie, also has its share of cringe-worthy sentiment ("That I would
be good, even if I gained 10 pounds ... That I would be good if I lost
my hair and my youth"), and Alanis' decision to whip out her flute and
tootle for a bit was ill-advised.
But these moments can be forgiven. On the whole, Morissette delivers a
worthy addition to the Unplugged lexicon, and her thoughtful cover
of the Police's "King of Pain" (RealAudio
excerpt) is a pleasure. A piano and strings help round out the
sound, and the band bassist Chris Chaney, guitarist Nick Lashley,
drummer Gary Novak, guitarist Joel Shearer and keyboard player Deron Johnson
keeps the sound intimate while letting Alanis dominate the room.
It seems critics' pronouncements of her demise as a one- or two-hit wonder
were a bit premature.