Alanis Morissette is older, wiser, still real as ever in ‘Such Pretty Forks in the Road’

Alanis Morrisette
Epiphany Music/Courtesy

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With the release of her third album Jagged Little Pill in 1995, Alanis Morissette made a name for herself in alternative rock. Emotive tracks, such as the fiery “You Oughta Know,” stand as classics to this day and have branded the vocalist as a bold authenticity. Morissette, now 46, has made numerous well-received records over the years, but her career never quite reached the commercial success that it did in the ’90s.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Jagged Little Pill and Morissette’s return from an eight-year break. On July 31, she released her ninth studio album Such Pretty Forks in the Road. Her mezzo-soprano voice dignifies the record as it always has, shameless and uncut. This time around, she demonstrates a deep clarity of what she battles with and who she is. 

The album’s most intricate element is the lyrics. Morissette is highly skilled with words, and this allows her to express even the messiest of emotions: She addresses complex issues such as sexual abuse, insomnia, anxiety and more.

“Reasons I Drink,” for example, is about addiction, crafting empathy and breaking through stigma. The line “Nothing can give a break for this soldier like they do” lends a strength and context to those who are suffering. 

Similarly touching on mental health, “Diagnosis” opens with the striking line, “Call it what you want/ ’Cause I don’t even care anymore.” Morissette illuminates her highly introspective mentality on her psychological difficulties — specifically, her postpartum depression. On this track, she admirably separates herself as an individual from a clinical label associated with her condition.

Although trauma is a focal point of Morissette’s music, lyrics such as these show that she is more than what troubles her, different from the more reactionary attitude of her earlier work. 

Also a development in Morissette’s music is the theme of motherhood. Now the mother of three children, she includes several songs on this album that impart how she’s been impacted — for better or worse.

“Ablaze,” for instance, is addressed to her daughter and sons. Each chorus is sung to a different child, with every verse’s last line as “My mission is to keep the light in your eyes ablaze.” While sung in the context of a world that can be cruel, this precious sentiment carries nothing but love.

In “Her,” she sings from a different vantage point as she lies on the floor in her kitchen and yearns for her own mother. Her voice breaks and the piano notes swell, collectively capturing a raw desire for her to be the one taken care of.

Morissette’s music has always been rich with emotion, in all its despair and joy. Through these tracks, there is impressive anatomy to her headspace. Her words show a strong grasp on what causes a feeling and what that feeling is. 

Still, although the lyrics and content are incredibly profound, the record as a whole isn’t exceptional. A listen without close attention to her words isn’t particularly dynamic. 

And while Morissette’s dark outlook on the human experience is alluring, it can also be repetitive. There’s lovely, uplifting sentiment in a few cases — such as in “Sandbox Love” and “Missing the Miracle” on her marriage — but these moments are sparse. 

The record, however, is tied up wonderfully. The song “Pedestal” allows Morissette to end with an emphasis on herself — pure and true. She sings in the bridge, gently yet emotionally charged, “When the bright lights clear, there’s just me sitting here.” 

At this conclusion, a stylistic element comes together. On the front cover, Morissette’s glittered face tilts back, her surroundings all black. And woven through lyrics, a similarly twinkling imagery emerges, such as with the “celestial mosaics” of “Nemesis” and a “flashing promise” in “Smiling.”

This album recognizes beauty, in all its rough edges and charm. Its title itself imbues a tessellation of the choices and twists that are life. Such Pretty Forks in the Road is not of the more timeless, commanding hits earlier in her career, but it is no disappointment in the slightest. It is undoubtedly a personal triumph.

Contact Kathryn Kemp at [email protected].