Once upon a time — oh, let’s just call it North America in the mid-’90s, shall we? — Weezer and Alanis Morissette were an inescapable part of the cultural landscape, churning out buoyant rock-radio hits (Weezer), wordy, eccentric anthems (Alanis), and MTV-friendly videos (both) with impressive consistency. Each act’s follow-ups, however, have failed to yield quite the success of their initial impact. So how, in the face of a never-ending rush of fresh industry blood, does an already established act stay relevant?
For Morissette, the answer on new CD Flavors of Entanglement seems to lie, for better or worse, in going through a really, really bad breakup. (And Weezer’s answer? See the EW review of new CD, Weezer.) The same kind of passion that fueled the 15-million-selling ’95 smash Jagged Little Pill (was there ever a woman more excellently scorned than the Alanis who excoriated her lover on ”You Oughta Know”?) is all over Entanglement — thanks to a well-publicized split with actor fiancé Ryan Reynolds.
Granted, at 34, she still writes too often in the histrionic, no one has ever felt what I feel style of a feverishly journaling liberal-arts major. Even so, the rawness of her hurt adds heft to eff-you screeds like the thunderous ”Versions of Violence,” and she’s found an able partner in producer and co-writer Guy Sigsworth, a onetime Björk collaborator. His dense, swirling compositions seem to push Morissette’s boundaries, conjuring her inner Princess of Darkness on the glitchy, gothy ”Straitjacket” and exploring Far Eastern exotica on the tabla-tinged opener ”Citizen of the Planet.”
But her most affecting moment may be the most stripped-down. A barely there piano is all the accompaniment needed on the broken, fragile ballad ”Not as We,” on which her voice cracks heartbreakingly over the lines ”From scratch begin again, but this time, I as I/And not as we.” Somehow, a devastating personal experience has galvanized her songwriting in a way that domestic bliss, as showcased on 2004’s disappointing So-Called Chaos, could not. B+
DOWNLOAD THIS: Hear a preview of ”Not as We” and the rest of Flavors of Entanglement at vh1.com