[The Mail On Sunday, 2001]
SHEPHERD'S BUSH EMPIRE, LONDON
SAY what you like about Alanis Morissette - and I intend to - but there's no denying the girl can belt it out. Alone among the "Dear Diary" school of songstresses, which she herself spawned, Alanis can both write a tune and carry it without the aid of pack mules or a small team of sherpas. In a modest-sized venue like this, the microphone is all but a formality.
For someone whose life's work consists of moaning, Alanis looks remarkably chipper. But you would too if you'd parleyed a tendency to whine into album sales of 30 million and counting. Ms Morissette is the high priestess of solipsism. To call her self-regarding is not criticism but fact. Deprive her of the word “I” and she would quite literally not know where to begin; half the songs on her huge-selling Jagged Little Pill album open with it. The follow-up, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, is by no means a stranger to the first person singular, either. It is, however, a stranger to the most of the record-buying public.
Perhaps Morissette feels chastened by the cool reception accorded her last LP, only two tracks from which make it onto the set list. Of the nine new songs she previews tonight, few would be out of place on Jagged Little Pill. True, they incorporate the occasional club-oriented beat, and at times Morissette seems to be labouring under the delusion that she is Irish, ululating away like her rivals in me-me-me melodrama, Sinead O'Connor and Dolores Cranberry. But the overall approach seems to be that this kind of thing sold by the tanker-load once, and it can do so again.
The ranks of pale young women - the Morissette-ettes, if you like, many of them coiffed in the same pigtails their heroine abandoned years ago - are in a kind of introspective ecstasy. They are delighted with the gung-ho 21 Things I Want In A Lover, an ambitious shopping list for girls who fail to realise that they have long since exhausted their meagre sexual credit. They love the abrasive Narcissus, aimed at a self obsessed “mama's boy”, as nice an insult as a pot ever lobbed at a kettle. This is Narcissus staring into the pool and grimacing at the reflection below - an irony probably lost on Morissette, who has devoted an entire song, Ironic, to proving that she doesn't know the meaning of word.
Even when the gig descends to a sluggish, gruel-like tempo, the faithful are not one whit dismayed. By now your reviewer is relying for entertainment on Morissette's engrossing hand gestures, which include: Threading the Invisible Loom; Milking the Giant Cow; and that evergreen favourite, Imaginary Bagpipes. She also turns out to be a fabulously inept harmonica player, blowing the harp with the verve and finesse of a one legged asthmatic inflating an air-bed with a foot-pump. Things liven up a bit with her breakthrough hit, You Oughta Know, which suggests that the toasted martyrs of old were mere dilettantes compared to ill-used Alanis. In an outbreak of sapphic Beatlemania, the gallery is filled with screams, of which only mine seem to be triggered by agony.
Let's accept that a performer requires an outsize, spun-glass ego. That for a certain kind of songwriter, intensive navel-gazing is both necessary and obligatory. It's a shame, given her way with a hookline, that Alanis Morissette doesn't have a deeper and more intriguingly-contoured navel. Still, if tonight's audience and 30 million punters are anything to go by, one size fits all.
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