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Alanis Morissette’s Such Pretty Forks in the Road: SDE review

Alanis Morissette / Such Pretty Forks in the Road

Alanis Morissette returns with a fine album

I’m going to be really honest. I haven’t bought any of Alanis Morissette’s albums since Jagged Little Pill way back in 1995.

Why? Not sure, really. I love her debut and also really enjoyed its 20th anniversary reissue back in 2015, so it doesn’t really make any kind of sense. There have only been five studio albums in the intervening 25 years and I can vaguely remember that the title of her ‘sophomore’ effort, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie rather put me off investigating further and for one reason or another and it just never felt important to check out subsequent releases. This would have been pre-streaming of course, so ‘investigating’ would mean ‘buying’, which is a whole other level of commitment.

Anyway, if her new album Such Pretty Forks in the Road is anything to go by, this has been a serious mistake. The 11-track outing is packed full of personal, thoughtful, melodic numbers and is one of those records you play, and then want to just immediately play again.

This is an older, and perhaps wiser, Alanis and she lays things out and sets the scene with opener ‘Smiling’, which was originally written for her Jagged Little Pill ‘jukebox’ musical (which premiered in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2018). This song’s lyric gives the album its title and appears to be saying that life has its ups and downs, but “I’m still here”. Frankly, sometimes you don’t know what she’s going on about (there’s a worrying line about being a “notorious bottom dweller”) but it really doesn’t matter. She clearly means it and when the message is delivered with conviction and sounds so good (Alanis sings beautifully throughout and the rhythm section is excellent) then what’s not to like?

The second track ‘Ablaze’ is a love letter to her kids, so lyrically it’s a bit sugary-sweet for my particular tastes (“love your hues and your blues in equal measure”), but hey, we all love our kids, I guess (most of the time). Again, the whole thing is so well constructed. It starts with just a guitar arpeggio and singing, before drums and bass come in for the second verse and I do like how Alanis sings the line “Your comings and your goings” and quite a few times on this record she made me recall the vocals of Carly Simon, which is obviously a good thing.

So ‘Ablaze’ is pretty good, but with ‘Reasons I Drink’, we return to self-analysis and a dose or two of self-hatred. This track marks the start of four or five piano-driven songs which form the core of the album. It’s an interesting lyric, with the antagonist’s emotions and behaviours swinging around like a pendulum (“I am buying a Lamborghini to make up for these habits to survive this sick industry”). One of the best on the album, with a fine chorus. The video just makes you love this track even more (see below).

‘Diagnosis’ however, is the true stand-out song on Such Pretty Forks in the Road. It’s a very moving, mournful piano ballad that’s a fairly bleak study of mental health issues (Alanis has opened up about her postnatal – or postpartum – depression). Apart from a light string arrangement, this song relies solely on Alanis’ vocal delivery, and the strength of the melody and the lyrics. It’s truly wonderful and already sounds like a classic. The brutal honesty makes it all the more affecting.

‘Missing The Miracle’ is mid-paced song which, again, sees Alanis sing to a piano backing and the songwriting is simply top-notch. This track has a chugging hypnotic quality and a seductive vocal melody, sounding almost effortless – which normally means that lots of time and energy has gone into it. It’s all the more effective thanks to a relatively simple arrangement and eventually builds and swirls to a climax before returning to solo piano.

Such Pretty Forks in the Road continues strongly with ‘Losing The Plot’ where Alanis lays down her cape and grieves “the end of superwoman-ing”. Another fantastic song and with a pointed reference to “fame and pressure” being “a vice” around her head. ‘Reckoning’ is the fifth confessional-style piano-driven song in a row, which in other hands could result in tedium, but there’s so much drama here and the high quality is maintained.

‘Sandbox Love’ is more of a straightforward, uplifting pop song with quite a sweary chorus, while ‘Her’ sees Alanis return to stripped down piano-and-vocals approach. ‘Nemesis’ is brilliant, with a pulsing modern sound. With an appropriate remix (and without the current pandemic) you could easily have imagined this being one of those Balearic dance hits of the summer. It has a hint of ‘Running Up That Hill’ drums towards the end (never a bad thing).

‘Pedestal’ exhibits an appropriate end-of-the-album tone, although it’s home to a very accusatory lyric (“I’m sure you enjoyed my name, who wouldn’t take advantage”). One presumes this song concerns Morissette’s business manager Jonathan Schwartz, who stole over $5 million from her and is currently in prison.

What I like about Morissette is that she has something to say. She really does. But that’s only half the battle; she has the skills to be able to articulate her feelings and her voice. She develops brilliant melodies on this album and successfully crams words into her songs in a rather unorthodox style. The meter isn’t always predictable; words and syllables sometimes hang on to the edge musical phrasings by their fingertips, but it works. This, combined with her ability to sing incredibly, gives her a very individualistic style.

In summary, Such Pretty Forks in the Road is a triumph. Now in her mid-forties, Alanis writes honestly about her life, your life, our life. Grown up music for a grown-up audience. Middle-age challenges – life, birth, death, grief, loyalty, family, work, love – pervade at every turn. There’s a consistency in sound and texture (with lots of piano, as stated) and a seriousness of intent that bonds everything together to create one single work of art. Ultimately, the album succeeds because it’s full of consistently excellent songs. At 11 tracks it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome and there’s no ballast that needs to be thrown overboard, to get things on an even keel. Highly recommended.

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Morissette, Alanis

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Such Pretty Forks in the Road CD edition

1. Smiling
2. Ablaze
3. Reasons I Drink
4. Diagnosis
5. Missing The Miracle
6. Losing The Plot
7. Reckoning
8. Sandbox Love
9. Her
10. Nemesis
11. Pedestal

Such Pretty Forks in the Road Vinyl LP

Side 1
1. Smiling
2. Ablaze
3. Reasons I Drink
4. Diagnosis
5. Missing The Miracle
6. Losing The Plot

Side 2
1. Reckoning
2. Sandbox Love
3. Her
4. Nemesis
5. Pedestal

 

44 responses to Alanis Morissette’s Such Pretty Forks in the Road: SDE review

  1. Tony says:

    Great review!

    Definitely looking forward to this.

    JLP is easily in my top 5 favorite albums of all-time. I liked tracks here and there after JLP, especially Thank U, Uninvited, Hands Clean, Crazy, etc

    I was working at Starbucks in 2008 when Flavors of Entanglement came out. I bought it with a discount and loved it immediately. Easily her best outside of JLP.

    I highly recommend checking that album out.

  2. Gerbrand says:

    Very, very enjoyable album, indeed. Thanks Paul for bringing it under my attention (I lost touch with Alanis after the first 2 albums). You did the same earlier with Tori Amos. A bit surprised you don’t mention her here, there being so many similarities between these two artists’ music.

  3. Jack Kelleher says:

    Paul,
    On your advice, I bought this, clear vinyl edition, and you’re absolutely right! Really nice album.
    It bookends with Jagged Little Pill just right.
    Thanks,
    Jack

  4. Stuart T says:

    Really enjoyed reading your review Paul and will certainly be having a listen to this new album soon. Would be good to see more reviews like this in future, I’m sure your regulars would appreciate this.
    I have all of Alanis’s releases since JLP but haven’t really got into the last two if I’m honest – I need to revisit… What did strike a chord from your review though was the comment ‘one of those records you play, and then want to just immediately play again’. This is exactly how I felt about So-Called Chaos when purchased years ago. There are some fantastic songs on this release, Out is Through, Excuses and Spineless are particular favourites of mine. Also, really like the way she includes such unusual words in her lyrics, e.g. assuage (c’mon, who uses that), doth (in a song title no less) and innate-ness (not even in the word thesaurus)! This albums repays repeated listening but be careful, some are very good ear worms!

  5. Francois says:

    100% agree with you Paul on that one.
    À very very very very good album which is spinning in loops in my CD player. She clearly put her heart and soul in that one, and there are feelings and emotion in every single tracks.
    My personal favorite is Pedestal, it can be interpreted in so many ways (including what you suggest about her former manager) and there is so much pain in it, it reminds me every time I listen to it that music is good when you Feel it.

  6. george glazener says:

    Awesome….Thanks Paul. I also just ordered this CD. I think Alanis is a marvelous contemporary talent. Smart, funny, ireverant, and enormously gifted & talented. I saw her in concert back in the late 1990’s in Atlanta, Ga. The venue was called “The Tabernacle”; an old southern church renovated to a concert hall. I thought it was deliciously ironic to hear some of the religious commentary in her songs being performed at a beautiful old southern church. Alanis, we love you..!!

  7. SimonP says:

    Another who bought and liked JLP and then more or less gave up on Alanis. I bought the mext album but thought it went on a bit. Might see if I still have and give it another listen.

  8. @chrissquires
    Thanks Chris! I was hoping it was one I wasn’t familiar with ( and I know several) and it is, so I’ll take that as a major recommendation. Also great to see Alanis recommendations as I stopped (slightly later than others) after Under Rug Swept (which I love).

  9. Uncle Meat says:

    Alanis Morissette and Joanna Newsom are two very interesting and exciting female artists that I’ve been following closely from the start. Perhaps Natalie Merchant in there, too.

    Morissette’s new album is in the house but I haven’t had the time to listen to it yet. Thanks to Paul’s excellent review I’m sure this is a great album from her. Once again!

    • Quante says:

      Joanna Newsom is fantastic, as is her ex boy friend Bill Callaghan. Sufjan Stevens is another favourite. Both Callaghan and Stevens have new albums coming out, but I await impatiently for Joanna Newsom to release a new album. She’s also amazing to see in concert.

      I’ve yet to listen to Natalie Merchant, but friends of ours have her box set, so I may have to borrow it and have a listen.

      • George glazener says:

        Ah, Natalie Merchant, another true music icon of our modern times. Saw her too, in 1987, with 10,000 maniacs in New York state. Touring the “in my tribe” album. I remember her as being very energetic onstage, dancing, twirling, and throwing her hair all over. Songs were great on that album, full of socially conscious themes. Michael Stipe sang on that album too.

  10. Kauwgompie says:

    One thing I love about this site is that no matter how many albums you have, you continue to learn new things, like a new Alanis Morissette album that I would otherwise pay no attention to. I too have the 20th anniversary box of JLP, obviously an excellent album. Even though I absolutely loved “Joining You” from “….Infatuation Junkie” I dropped her from my repertoire. Hard to explain why. The 90’s didn’t do much for me musically. I tried the grunge thing but that really wasn’t for me. The whole 90’s music scene wasn’t for me. Subconsciously I wanted the 80’s back and the 90’s was more or less crap if your favorite albums are Sign Of The Times, Rio, New Gold Dream, Songs From The Big Chair and Let’s Dance.

    The new Alanis Morissette sounds absolutely great. Thanks for making us aware!!

  11. Pete {in Australia} says:

    So, this morning, I open your email and link to here, as I also get an email to say that Alanis’s new cd has arrived at my Post Box. I have never been a fan of Alanis, which alot of friends cannot understand. I did by her single, “Head Over Feet” and her song “Uninvited” is my fav track from the “City of Angels” soundtrack, and moves me everytime. I clicked on the first song, shared from the new album and was blown away, so as each new song was shared I investigated, until i got to four and thought, seems like I am getting my first Alanis album. Took a punt and pre-ordered it and have just given it a spin, and WOW, yeap, not a track, that I do not ENJOY! Tried listening to a Greatest Hits, but most on that collection, could not gel with, but loved “Mercy”, which has lead me to recently getting “The Prayer Cycle” by Jonathan Elias on CD.

  12. AModSquad says:

    Pretty much same experience with Alanis as you. Though I was still obsessed with her through SFIJ and then after she managed to put out on of my all time fave tracks, Uninvited, for city of joy(?) soundtrack. She lost me after mtv unplugged for the most part.
    Not sure why, I can’t stop listening to this album which has relit my interest in her old work so been on an Alanis kick for a few weeks now.
    I saw her on the joint headlining tour with tori Amos in 98ish. Both were fantastic!

  13. Angelo says:

    I’ve been following her career since JLP. My favorite albums are ‘Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie’ and the expanded edition of ‘Flavors of Entanglement’.

    This is a nice review and I’m glad the new record left a good impression, especially on those who had forgotten how good she is.

    As a longtime fan, though, to me this album doesn’t go beyond its predecessor, released 8 years ago, both in terms of music and lyrics. After such a long break, I was expecting a new musical direction or at least a different take on the familiar themes: they were all covered on the last album from the same perspective. It is a good album indeed, although it feels more like an epilogue to ‘Havoc and Bright Lights’ than a fresh course in her artistic journey.

  14. Steve F says:

    A great and really balanced review Paul.

    I’ve loved every album she’s released except “Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie” which is too long and the songs are ruined by appallingly bad, distracting Production (I do love “The Couch” though. Also the versions of several songs from that album that she stripped down to perform on her wonderful MTV Unplugged album).

    Hopefully, you’ll now go back and her the many beautiful, striking, honest & provocative songs she’s written on previous albums.

    So glad I bought this wonderful LP.

  15. Paul Nolan says:

    Great review Paul, I think its definitely her best since JLP. every song great All killer no filler

  16. Phil Jones says:

    As her years progressed on, I found myself less liking her. She moved away from rock – or at least pop/rock – into pure pop crap with remixes and other stuff with my last album being Flavors of Entanglement.
    Funny how she sold 15 million copies of SFIJ and didn’t get to 100,000 copies with Havoc and Bright Lights. Of course by that album the music world changed [streaming, digital] and she was on a small label.

  17. John Orr says:

    Got all her CD’s, and some vinyl reissues. So, will be buying soon. Great review as ever Paul!

  18. Steve Marine says:

    I’ve been following Alanis religiously since JLP and I encourage you to go back and listen to her work. She’s amazing. I particularly recommend my two favorite albums: “So-Called Chaos” and “Havoc & Bright Lights.”

  19. joel ivins says:

    I loved the first two and the live unplugged…as time went on, I felt like she lost too much of her passion (who doesn’t love an angry, well written song about how stupid men can sometimes be) and didn’t compensate with better music and lyrics…although I find this album mellow, it feels like she has come back up with the music and lyrics…of topic…new single with the mission, budgie and martin gore and a whole host of people-“tower of strength” out aug 28

  20. Mick Lynch says:

    Hi Paul, I dont think JLP was her debut. I have 2 previous CDS. great review.

  21. Quante says:

    I’m with Michael McA in that Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie went on too long. It was the time of if I can fill a cd with music, I will; especially with Alanis now being a major artist, who would have been allowed to do whatever she wanted after the success of Jagged Little Pill.

    The too long a cd killed other albums, as you never seemed to get past track eight before running out of time or desire to listen.

    The LP is the perfect time for a reasonable attention span, especially as it is broken up into sides a, b, c, d. The tape was great in that the 45 minutes allowed a single album on one side. The worst part of home recording was the album that just exceeded 45 minutes and the end of the last song was cut off – Bat Out Of Hell was one of those.

    The LP and tape format enabled me to get into the latter stages of the likes of Physical Graffiti really easily, and I commonly had favourite sides of LP’s that would get played a lot at different stages of discovering an album. Physical Graffiti is a bad example to use as a comparison to the listening length of Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, as it would have been placed on two cds, but 70+ minutes on a single disc (outside of a greatest hits) can be hard going.

    I’ll have to relook at the cd singles that I bought from her middle year albums and see if they are any good, as I can’t remember. Jagged Little Pill is still one of the best SDE’s that has come out and was a total bargain at the time.

    The one time I saw Alanis Morrisette live was on the Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie tour in an arena, where the bass levels ruined the whole concert. Most concerts take a song or two to get the sound balance right, but they never sorted it out and her voice was overwhelmed by the bellowing bass noise.

  22. AudioDile says:

    Paul, both Under Rug Swept and Flavors of Entanglement (especially the 2 CD version) are excellent albums, I was sad to see how little press the latter got. For me the weakest album was Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, but even that had a few gems.

    FOE is with the same person who worked with Imogen Heap on Frou Frou so there is a similar “flavor” to the tracks. Obviously a big part of Alanis’s appeal is how much you can relate to her very introspective and sometimes cumbersome lyrics, but personally I can relate to a lot of it.

    I strongly recommend you give both a shot!

  23. David D Cole says:

    I agree this is her best Album in Year’s. Not a bad song on the CD.

  24. Thilo says:

    Paul, thanks for the review, I will buy this Album!
    (I have all Alanis CDs, but never gave them a close listen, with the exception of JLP, so the back catalogue needs to be explored…)

  25. Larry Davis says:

    Continuing in this thread, I found SFIJ a bit unwieldy, a little unfocused, a bit messy, BUT I find it to be part of it’s odd charm, like a sprawling double album like the Beatles White album…when I met her, she was shooting the video for “Unsent” in my then-neighbourhood in Brooklyn, NY…and I found her 1st 2 albums, pre-JLP, on MCA Canada, to not totally suck, 2nd better than the first…as for records being the only one of an artist I like, I have to think about that because I am a person who buys catalogue, not random, and usually if an artist has only 1 album I like, I don’t buy them at all…if I did, it would be a collection only and maybe the 1 album…I thought of one…Deee-Lite “World Clique”…

  26. Mike says:

    I agree! The only A.M. album I own is Jagged Little Pill which I absolutely love however I just couldn’t get into the follow up. It didn’t grab like her first album did and I think because of this she just slipped under the radar within my own listing habits. I moved on to Sheryl Crow by the end of the 90’s. Definitely gonna give this a listen.

  27. Jon M says:

    @chris squires:

    Regarding La Roux, definitely check out her second album Trouble in Paradise. I think it’s better than her debut album with a lot of could-have-been huge singles like Uptight Downtown. She had issues with her label and the album was unfairly ignored. The new one Supervision is ok but I think she had more to say on Trouble in Paradise.

    I completely ignored Alanis after Jagged Little Pill. Just wasn’t into her style of music really. Worked at WB in 2000 and went to some industry promo event and she did a full set of material from the first two WB albums. She was great. Probably need to give this a chance.

    • Derek Langsford says:

      Just my 2p on La Roux. Loved the debut. Modern synth/dance pop with an 80s feel.

      But it was clear with Trouble in Paradise that the La Roux I loved were Elly Jackson AND Ben Langmaid. With Langmaid out of the picture, the sound and production changed and was much less satisfying. Rarely play anything from it. Cruel Sexuality is probably the best song. The last track (The Feeling) sounds unfinished. The singles from the third album were enough to tell me that sadly I am done with buying any more La Roux.

  28. Erik says:

    Another one who loved JLP, listening to it more times than I can count, and as much as I hate the phrase, “Soundtrack to that-time-of-my-life”…I have to admit it kind of was. I listen to that album and it just takes me back. I did pick up SFIJ and while I did enjoy it, there were just too many words and can’t remember the last time I played it. The songs never had a chance to breath or even, it seemed, Alanis herself as is sounded like she was just racing to get all the lyrics in before the musicians stopped playing. But other than a lovely DVD she made of a performance at an Indian Reservation, haven’t gotten anything else since.

    Until now, and I am so happy I did as I rather love this album. Anyone who hasn’t listened to her in a while, definitely give this a try.

  29. Thanks for the great review Paul! This would make a great thread in itself about leaving it at one album you love by an artist. I have to ask Chris: which one Cure album did you pick?

    • Chris Squires says:

      It was “The Top” Murray. Just loved it, and as Erik (above) says it just soundtracked a couple of heady 1984 weeks, as ever involving unrequited love and unruly hormones (listened to too much Stephen Duffy in my life). But for some reason, never bought an album from them before or since, and they’ve done a few, apparently….
      Throw another couple out there Hothouse Flowers (Songs from the Rain) and Del Amitri (Waking Hours) Played to death but never explored more for some reason.

      • SimonP says:

        Almost everything Del Amitri did after Waking Hours is excellent. I’m not that into them that I went out and bought the two discers a few years back, but the original albums are ace. No one writes a bitter love song like Mr Currie.

        Annoyed that I’ve never been able to find the video to their single Just Before You Leave anywhere online…

  30. Jeff says:

    Excellently stated/written review Paul…..congratulations!! I couldn’t agree more :)

  31. Michael McA says:

    Like many – loved JLP and bought SFIJ on the strength of it and Thank U – and SFIJ certainly has some great moments – Would Not Come is magnificently odd and really summed up my own self at the time – but the album (17 tracks) went on for far too long and the angst began to wear a bit thin – but I did buy Under Rug Swept and So-Called Chaos too but by then – certainly – I’d tired of the ranting (often about men!) – ending up preferring to listen to (her contemporary) Sheryl Crow instead (less whining).

    She certainly has balls which is always a good thing.

    I’ll give the new album a listen on Spotify first.

  32. Larry Davis says:

    Great review Paul…and I really think you would enjoy her whole catalogue (Under Rug Swept is a particular favourite and has my fave Alanis song, Precious Illusions)…and now with streaming, you can catch up with little or no cost!! Lots to like & yes, new album is brilliant…I met her once in 1999 and she was lovely to talk to as well…

  33. Jarmo Keranen says:

    I own Jagged Little Pill and Supposed Former… cd’s. Bought both in the 90’s and to my ears Supposed Former… is much better than Jagged Little Pill. What i have heard from her after that haven’t impress me at all!

  34. Chris Squires says:

    This is an older, and perhaps wiser, Editor.

    It happens, I have many excellent first albums that never transpired into second of third albums. No reason, no excuse. Sometimes life just gets in the way. Off the top of my head, artists, that I have one very much loved album by, that I have never further explored further than one album release that isn’t a compilation….. Lily Allen, La Roux, Midlake, Gary Numan, Electric Six, The Clash, The Cure, REM …. As Paul says, absolutely no reason that I didn’t get Trouble in Paradise or Supervision (La Roux)… I just never did, I adore the first album.

    • Gareth Jones says:

      The 2nd Lily Allen is marginally better than the first IMHO, but by the 3rd, forget it! Also l’m sure you’re not alone at only having one Electric Six album!

      Interested to know what was your one and only REM album puchsse though? Presumably either Out Of Time or Automatic For The People. I actually bizarrely only bought Document! I really liked It’s The End Of… but never tried another album apart from a greatest hits collection.

    • Paul E. says:

      @ Chris Squires – I still enjoy La Roux’s debut and recommend you check out the 2010 mixtape Major Lazer assembled titled “Lazerproof”. It was issued in low numbers on CD but is available free on many mixtape sites/YouTube etc. Well done mash-ups off of La Roux’s first album mixed with R&B, dubstep, dancehall – essential listening for early La Roux fans! (If you can move beyond some of the explicit language…it stands as solid party in the box/playlist.)

      • Chris Squires says:

        Gareth – “It’s not me it’s you” is brilliant and a rarity on so many levels for me. a) Only have it on Pic Disc – had three copies on black until I gave up due to skipping. b) A rare thing that I love an album of someone I can’t stand as a person. Would buy a decent black vinyl re-issue or SDE in a heartbeat as long as I don’t have to read or hear a word the lady says about…..anything…..ever……

        Electric Six – Well yes, it’s a rather fabulous album, plus it confuses the hell out of the kids when I can belt out the entire lyrics to “Gay Bar” and claim it as one of my favourite songs.

        REM was “Out of Time” – timing and a love of the B52s basically, Kate Pierson does things with her voice that few people can… *shivers*.

        Paul E. Typing all this out listening to Lazerproof. It’s done well isn’t it. Wouldn’t normally listen to any of that nonsense you mention, but this is good, take away the La Roux bit though and I am sure my ears would be bleeding. Plus La Roux as Iron Man is quite a concept.

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