When Alanis Morissette puts out a brand new body of work after five years, it’s like watching a flower that’s been wilting for days get its nutrients back. This brand new album “Such Pretty Forks in the Road,” is packed with emotionally-wrought, emotive ballads with Morissette showing off her signature mezzo-soprano belting with organic, stripped-back instrumentation that includes heavy piano and mosquito guitar-riffs reminiscent of an early Yeah Yeah Yeahs record.
This album sees Morissette tackling fear, trauma, motherhood, notoriety and fame, sexual assault and existential dread. Heavy lyrical themes are rebirth (“Losing the Plot”), biblical references like Adam and Eve with “Ablaze,” “Missing the Miracle,” and “Reckoning,” with lyrics imagining herself approaching the gates of Heaven in the afterlife. Alanis Morissette is known for providing the listener with raw and honest personal experiences, and hearing her stick to her guns while maintain her knack for vulnerable, evocative songwriting on this album was incredibly satisfying.
The reason why I always gravitated to Morissette is because she is unafraid to be vulnerable and bear it all in her songwriting coupled with her assertive and unapologetic tone on records like “Jagged Little Pill” and “Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie.” She maintains these qualities front-to-back on “Pretty Forks,” right from the beginning on the opening track, “Smile,” with lyrics that go “this is the first wave of my white flag, this is the sound of me hitting bottom.”
“Ablaze” is a love-letter to her children that opens with biblical imagery of original sin leading to conflict on earth (“All our devotions and temperaments are pulled from different wells/They seem to easily forget we are made of the same cells”). She warns her children that as they develop they will have to grapple with the ills of society and a cruel world, but she promises that she will always be there to aid them through it (“My mission is to keep the light in your eyes ablaze”). It’s impossible not to get glassy-eyed listening to this song, even if the listener cannot relate to parenthood.
Arguably the most important track on the album is “Sandbox Love,” where Alanis deals with the traumatic aftermath of sexual assault and grapples with the shame and disgust (“Catapult me out of this fantasy/It’s never been mine, it’s always been yours”). It’s never comfortable to talk about, and this isn’t the first time she’s written about the topic from personal experience.
The strongest tracks on this album by far are “Losing the Plot,” “Nemesis,” and “Pedestal.” The former and the latter both grapple with the pressure of having to be the superhero for everybody all the time, and recognizing that it’s okay to be human instead. “Pedestal” grapples with fame in notoriety, with Morissette warning her fans who hold her in the highest regard that she’s going to let them down eventually if they continue to treat her like an untouchable image of perfection (“One day, you’ll see that you’ve never really seen me/And one day, you’ll find out that everything you dreamed of wasn’t who stood before you”).
The instrumental progression on “Nemesis” starts out slow and eventually picks up and reaches a climactic tempo with steady guitar riffs and drum loops. One of Morissette’s hidden strengths is in her lower register, which is how she opens the song, eventually migrating to her signature belting range. The faint drum patterns and light guitar riffs and background synthesizer drones creates a rare atmospheric sound that perfectly weaves into the lyrics.
The production on this album is incredibly lush, organic and smooth. The majority of it is played with real instruments and minimal electronic production, which is becoming more rare in today’s musical landscape, and it makes the album all the more fantastic. Catherine Marks did a remarkable job producing this album.
My favorite thing about Alanis Morissette is that she is unabashedly transparent and brutally honest with her songwriting. She never compromised her image or vision for anybody since she rose to prominence in the ’90s. The most important part of this album is that she acknowledges that she cannot always be the superwoman that her beloved fans, friends, or family need her to be, and that’s okay. On “Losing the Plot” she acknowledges that her “mission is not done yet,” and her world dominance is far from over. Anyone who thought she would fade into obscurity after the ’90s is dead wrong.