Queen of Pain

Featuring three previously unreleased songs.

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

Unplugged session.

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.