Who can believe it’s been a massive 25 years – a whole quarter of a century! – since Alanis Morissette broke the perfect-pop mould and released her seminal alt-rock record Jagged Little Pill, imperfections and swearing embraced unabashedly and resonating with the post-grunge and mid-Britpop generation.
The Canadian hit the radio waves with her guitar-laden and angsty flavour of alt-rock seemingly overnight, but her 1995 record was already her third studio album. But it was her first to be put out by Madonna’s Maverick record label following her re-location to Los Angeles and partnering with famed produced Glen Ballard and also the first to be released outside of her native Canada.
The record went on to go 16x Platinum in the US, shifting some 33 million copies globally, winning five Grammy awards and cementing both Morissette and her collection of songs in music history, with the lyrics of classic cuts such as Ironic being discussed and disputed for decades to come.
The album was celebrated in style this week with a special one-off acoustic show at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire where Morissette played an intimate, stripped-back set – akin to her iconic 1999 MTV Unplugged performance – featuring all 13 songs from the record including hidden bonus cut Your House. Plenty of sing-along moments were shared, with the singer on stage often drowned out by her audience across all four levels of the iconic West London venue during the biggest hits.
Morissette sat centre stage, flanked by two guitarists and a sea of acoustic guitars as she laid into the seminal record of songs she wrote as a teenager, not in the sequence they appear on the record but choosing to kick off with the aforementioned secret song. Album-opener All I Really Want allowed the 45-year-old to take on harmonica duties four songs in, the crowd delighted to experience the tempo shift reflected in shy stifled laughs from the singer.
The original female heartbreak angst record and Morissette’s breakthrough 1995 single You Oughta Know featured late in the set but lost none of its power with the night’s stripped-back nature, the crowd ensuring to emphasise it’s not-so-radio-friendly swearing.
“When I write these songs I write them, initially, for myself” Morissette offered. “But then I share them and they’re yours to do with as you wish. I’m often really moved and touched by people telling me their interpretations of the songs, even if it has nothing to do with what I meant when I wrote them!” she continued, a chuckle spreading across the theatre venue.
In addition to the entirety of her seminal record getting an airing, the set was peppered with cuts from the Ottawa native’s back catalogue, with Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie single Thank U and Under Rug Swept tune Hands Clean creeping into the mix along with the ‘other’ single from the soundtrack to 1998 Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan film City Of Angels, Uninvited – the hit single from that soundtrack itself getting a London airing last week with Goo Goo Dolls belting out their song Iris at Camden’s Roundhouse.
Judging by the excitement in the air to see Morissette play a live show, let alone a promise of fan favourites from her seminal record, it’s clear there is a demand for the now mother of three to return to touring. And with both newer releases Reasons I Drink and Smiling – each dealing with the singer’s struggles with postpartum depression and anxiety – from her forthcoming ninth studio album Such Pretty Forks In The Road – dropping May 1st – making it into tonight’s set and a European arena tour announced for the autumn, it’s not too long to wait before we see her full rock production back on the road.
Words & photography of Alanis Morissette at Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 4th March 2020 by Kalpesh Patel.