What do you do 25 years after you were catapulted into global stardom at 21 years old with a generation-defining, emotionally raw, groundbreaking album that spawned four Billboard number 1 hits one after another? What does youthful angst transform into after a tumultuous 25 years in which you have gotten married, had three kids, and released nearly half-a-dozen albums? What music do you put out after an eight year hiatus during which the entire world as we know it has become almost unrecognisable from what it once was?
If you’re Alanis Morissette, these aren’t abstract hypotheticals, but a series of fundamental, almost impossible-to-answer questions that have to be resolved before the release of your new, highly anticipated ninth studio album. In other words, they are the ‘such pretty forks in the road’ that have to be resolved.
While ‘Such Pretty Forks In The Road’ is ultimately a triumphant record, Morissette lets us know that it wasn’t easy to get here (“I have not made much headway / Since I have come back from the war”). Throughout this album, Alanis Morissette confronts a number of personal, emotional issues – ranging from sexual abuse, motherhood and depression. Inexplicably, she does so with both a specificity that makes it clear she is singing from her own, unique lived experience, as well as with a universality that means all listeners (regardless of personal experience) can find something to relate to.
What is most powerful about listening to ‘Such Pretty Forks In The Road’ is how Morissette makes it feel as though every word she is singing is being sung for no-one but herself. When listening to this album, it’s hard to imagine that thousands of other people are doing the exact same thing. While a few talented singers can make it feel as though you (the listener) and only you are being sang to, Morissette does something different – she sings not as someone trying to be heard, but as someone trying to heal. In listening to ‘Such Pretty Forks In The Road’, we are listening to a singer who has freed herself from the constraints of commercial pressures and has written only with her own introspection in mind. In doing so, Morissette has articulated the universal feelings of sadness, despair, longing and anxiety in a way few could.
From her introspection, Morissette finally unveils the 25 year metamorphosis from Jagged Little Pill to current day. Much of the anger that defined Morissette’s breakthrough album has been replaced with a deeper self-reflection and a clearer sense of purpose. On lead single ‘Reasons I Drink’, she reflects on the conflict between alcohol dependence and the negative externalities this has on the ones closest to you (“These are the ones whom I know it so deeply affects / And I am left wondering how I would function without it”). While on ‘Ablaze’ she finds purpose in motherhood (“My mission is to keep the light in your eyes ablaze”).
However, it would be wrong to categorise ‘Such Pretty Forks In The Road’ as an album that presents a pretence of enlightenment. Twenty five years after Jagged Little Pill, Morissette is still agonising over love (“And one day, you’ll see that you’ve never really seen me”) and can still tap into the anger that she was once defined by (“You attacked at your will / While all the locks are frayed”, “Now that we all know better, you’ll be haunted / I hope you enjoy these drawings in your jail”).
In balancing angst with triumph, Morissette is making a statement: although we can never find true and ever-lasting inner peace, we can – and should – seek to move ever closer to that illustrious goal. While we will continue to be forced into “danger” zones, as long as we go “with a friend” and remember to “breathe in through [our] nose”, everything will be okay. This, ultimately, is what makes ‘Such Pretty Forks In The Road’ a masterpiece; it is neither too triumphant to seem facetious, nor too agonising to seem defeatist. Despite many valiant efforts, few artists ever fully achieve this balance in their lifetime. Yet, Morissette, at 46 years old, has found it – and never loses touch with it during her 11-track masterpiece. Despite singing that she is “Missing The Miracle”, Morissette creates her own miracle – a musical miracle – on this album; an album whose raw emotional presentation and moving story telling will forever remain unmatched.