After Morissette was signed by John Alexander (of the Ottawa band Octavian) to a publishing contract with MCA Publishing (MCA Records Canada), Howe produced her major label debut, the dance-pop Alanis (1991, MCA MCAD-10253). The cuts "Too Hot" and "Feel Your Love" drove the album to platinum (100,000 units sold) in Canada, and Morissette won a Juno Award as most promising female vocalist. Her second album, Now Is the Time (1992, MCAD 10731), also employed an energetic dance sound; though more introspective than Alanis, it did not enjoy the same commercial success.
Seeking new development as a songwriter, Morissette moved to Toronto, where she participated in Songworks, a songwriting program organized by the publishing house Peer Music.
In 1994 Morissette briefly returned to television and Ottawa to host the CBC-TV program Music Works. The show, which presented alternative rock musicians and its host in an unplugged, untraditional setting, exposed the young Morissette to new artistic development.
Released from her Canadian record deal but maintaining her MCA Publishing ties, Morissette followed the advice of her new manager, Scott Welch, and relocated to Los Angeles, where she was recognized by songwriter-producer Glenn Ballard and MCA executive Guy Oseary and signed by Maverick Records.
Her first album release for Maverick, Jagged Little Pill (1995, CDW 45901), was a mature, compellingly personal collection of modern-rock original compositions that sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. Singles such as "Ironic," "You Learn," and especially the controversial "You Oughta Know," established her as a spokesperson for her generation. A phenomenal success, Jagged Little Pill became the best-selling North American debut album by a female (it was considered her debut because her previous two recordings had never been issued internationally). New York Times critic Neil Strauss called Morissette, "as much a conscience for the introverted world of today's rock audience as folk music was a voice for the extroverted world of the generation before."
Jagged Little Pill swept the 1996 Grammys, breaking new ground and winning Morissette four of the most coveted awards: album of the year, best female rock vocal performance, best rock song, and best rock album. Many had believed the Grammys were too mainstream for Morissette's brand of raw alternative rock: "You Oughta Know" was the first song in Grammy nomination history to contain an expletive.
Following the release of Jagged Little Pill, Morissette embarked on a year-and-a-half-long tour that presented 252 shows in 28 countries. In 1997, CBC-TV aired Alanis Morissette in Concert (financed by Warner Bros. and Morissette's management team), which featured close-up footage of the singer on tour. A video, Jagged Little Pill Live (Maverick 3-38476), produced by Morissette and Steve Purcell, won the 1998 Grammy Award for best music video, long form.
Following a two-year hiatus during which Morissette rejuvenated, travelled to India, and participated in several triathlons, she teamed again with Glenn Ballard to record the introspective, India-influenced Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (1998, Maverick CDW 47094). The album garnered Juno Awards for best album and best video of 2000, and sold more than 7 million copies worldwide.
In 1998 Morissette collaborated with other musicians, eg, singing on Dave Matthews Band's Before These Crowded Streets (1998, RCA 07863 67660-2) on the tracks "Spoon" and "Don't Drink the Water," and on Ringo Starr's Vertical Man (1998, Mercury 558 598-2) on the songs "Mindfield," "Drift Away," and "I Was Walkin." The same year, her song "Uninvited" was included on the soundtrack for City of Angels (Warner Sunset/Reprise CDW 46867). At the 1999 Grammy Awards, "Uninvited" added two awards to Morissette's collection, for best rock songwriter and best female rock vocal performance.
After performing at Woodstock '99 and touring with Tori Amos, Morissette released an album taken from the MTV Unplugged series (Maverick CDW 47589). In 1999 she made her film acting debut in Dogma; the soundtrack (Maverick CDW 47597), composed by Howard Shore, contained her previously unreleased song "Still."
A leader in showing other musicians how Internet audio technology could help promote their music, that year Morissette permitted fans to download from her Web site the free, unreleased song "Your House." The song was digitally coded to be destroyed 30 days after downloading.
Wishing to develop her acting career, Morissette appeared in off-Broadway productions of The Vagina Monologues (2000) and The Exonerated (2003). Also in 2000, she acted in two acclaimed TV series, Sex and the City and Curb Your Enthusiasm. In 2004 she returned to film work in Just One of Those Things, a musical based on the life of Cole Porter.
Her third studio album, the self-produced Under Rug Swept (2002, Maverick 9 47988-2), included the number-one hit single, "Hands Clean." This was followed by a late 2002 release of Feast On Scraps (Maverick 2-48409), a combination DVD/CD package consisting of eight unissued tracks from the Under Rug Swept recording sessions.
Released in May 2004, Morissette's fourth album, So-Called Chaos, was co-produced by herself, John Shanks, and Tim Thorney. The new recording built on the songwriting techniques presented on her earlier albums. Morissette described her inspiration as continuing to derive primarily from stream-of-consciousness internal conversations and from personal journals.
Morissette's Musical Style
Morissette's music has affected critics in strikingly different ways. During the mid-1990s, her work attracted much media debate; critics either praised her music, or despised it. Michael Snyder of the San Francisco Chronicle described her musical style as a "skillful blend of confessional folk music and gutsy rock." Anne Ayers of USA Today applauded Morissette's "mature assured song craft." Contrastingly, Kimberly Reyes of Time criticized her lyrics as "pretentious and overly literal," and David Fricke's Rolling Stone review of Jagged Little Pill referred to her music as containing "more stylish argument than probing talk."
Although both men and women were drawn to Morissette's music, her audiences have contained a noticeably large number of women. Women discovered their female experience deeply reflected in Morissette's lyrics.
Morissette has espoused a number of humanitarian and political causes. In 2001, at the request of fellow artists, Morissette and American singer-songwriter Don Henley argued before the American Senate Judiciary Committee that musicians needed to be more involved in the developing debate between on-line music services and record companies. Morissette emphasized that music companies and artists could benefit from working together in the development of technology, and that technology allowed more communication with audiences. "For the majority of artists this so-called [Napster] piracy had worked in their favor," she observed. "Napster had helped lesser-known musicians form an audience, which they were able to translate into payment through concert sales and merchandise."
In 2001, she and Jackson Browne, James Taylor, and others formed the coalition New Power Project, lobbying against President George W. Bush's energy policy and Alaskan oil-drilling. Morissette posted her position on environmental issues on her Web site. Also in 2001 the Friends of the United Nations awarded her its Global Tolerance Award. In 2003 she was honoured with the prestigious Patrick Lippert Award, which recognizes popular artists who serve as activists. She has appeared at benefit concerts, including the John Lennon tribute in New York for gun control; and Music Without Borders, which benefited the United Nations Donor Alert Appeal.
During the 2003 Juno Awards, Morissette drew attention to Band Aid, a CARAS (Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) initiative to redress the erosion of school music programs. Morissette delivered donated musical instruments to an Ottawa school.
When approached by CARAS to host the 2004 Juno Awards, Morissette said she agreed to host the ceremony for two main reasons. The first was to pay tribute to Canada's strong singer-songwriting tradition: "In every interview that I do around the planet, people constantly ask me: What is it about you Canadians, what is so intangibly conversational? There's a depth to the art [singer-songwriting] that comes out of Canada." The second reason was personal growth: "It's never been my aspiration to host the Junos," she admitted, "and that's probably why I'm doing it, in that it's a risk for me." During the show, she gave the debut performance of "Everything," the first single from So-Called Chaos.
In 2004 Morissette hosted a televised rally in Ottawa for the Dalai Lama of Tibet. She also, with actor Keanu Reeves, narrated a documentary series about global warming.
Author Cheryl Gillard
Ayers, Anne. "Alanis Morissette: Jagged Little Pill," USA Today, 13 June 1995
Snyder, Michael. "Morissette burns on American tour," San Francisco Chronicle, 17 July 1995
Wild, David. "The adventures of Miss Thing," Rolling Stone, 2 Nov 1995
Hannaham, James. "Alanis in wonderland," Spin, Nov 1995
Strauss, Neil. "New faces in Grammy nominations," New York Times, 5 Jan 1996
Bliss, Karen. "One sweet gig," Canadian Musician, June 1996
Cantin, Paul. Alanis Morissette: you oughta know (Toronto, 1997)
Pareles, Jon. "Alanis Morissette explores the healing power of song," New York Times, 1 Nov 1998
Chauncey, Sarah. "Music, meditation and Alanis Morissette," Canadian Musician, 20, no. 6, Dec 1998
Johnson, Brian D. "Alanis in wonderland," Maclean's, 25 Feb 2002
Reyes, Kimberly. "Review: 'Under Rug Swept' by Alanis Morissette," Time, 26 Mar 2002
Sperounes, Sandra. "Confessions of an award show host," Ottawa Citizen, 3 Apr 2004
White, Timothy. "Music to my ears: Morissette's jagged self-healing," Billboard, 13 May 1995
Links to Other Sites
Search for your favourite musicians and recordings at the Grammy Awards website.
A video of Alanis Morissette performing some of favourite songs. From Yahoo.com.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...