HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: Sit down Adele, Alanis has a new album
Picture this scene… Alanis Morissette and Adele walk into a bar. It’s open-mic night. Adele hops on stage first – of course she whips out a belter, expectedly, her voice making the insides of the audience tremble. Some break out in tears, some watch in awe and others are lost in a mindless journey in remembrance and mourning of their own existential crisis.
You’d think that that’s enough. That’s where it ends. How can things get any worse than Someone Like You or Don’t You Remember?, Hello or whatever painful ballad of regret, loss and nostalgia she decides to pull out her bag? They can. Because as soon as she hops off the stage, Alanis merely looks at here with those big brown eyes and says: “Hold my beer” while she takes to the stage and starts to crack the shit-show that is 2020 wide open with some of her latest offerings off her new album Such Pretty Forks in the Road.
Don’t be fooled readers. There is nothing pretty about this album. Isn’t it ironic? Each track leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, it’s a cut on the roof of your mouth that you can’t stop tonguing and it’s exactly the kind of medicine we need. It makes no sense in a time that makes no sense, it’s honest in the wordiest of ways and it’s so deeply, cuttingly unhappy and unkind to both Alanis and the listener – just like this year has been to us all. Alanis is still swallowing jagged little pills after all these years and while we were sitting and waiting for Adele to offer us up some beautiful misery as we always do at whatever age she chooses next, we forgot about Alanis.
The original millennial. The original scribe of sorrow. The original poet of pain. And the original force behind our morbid fascination with the music that is great to listen to, but seriously not fun…. Or funny, or performative for that matter, it simply just is… Like for example, even though we all know both these artists have privileges beyond what any of us could imagine, I really do believe Alanis’ explanations of why she chooses alcohol as an escape in Reasons I Drink.
Of course, Alanis being Alanis, her lyrics are more encrypted and less literal than Adele’s, which makes for harder listening. Is she really talking about wine? Or is there some hidden message in the second verse’s words:
And here are the reasons I eat
Reasons I feel everything so deeply when I'm not medicated
And so that's it, I am buying a Lamborghini
To make up for these habits, to survive this sick industry
Is this a critique on body positivity? Is it a critique on the influencer industry? On a false sense of being full when everything is so empty? What does it mean? I don’t know Alanis, but tell us more… because somehow, even though I don’t drink, I love that you’re explaining why it helps. Are you drinking because of 2020 or are you drinking to get turnt?
I love that after all these years, since her first international debut album dropped in 1995, Alanis is still not okay. It’s the same reason we look forward to Adele’s work. Because we want to know that she is still not okay. She wasn’t at 19 and who knows if she will be now, at the age of 32 or even ten years from now? We do. We know. She won’t be, and that’s what makes her great. But forget about all that now and go and sit and nurse a Horlicks to warm your heart while Alanis freezes your bones with existentialism of epic proportions. You’re going to need a hot drink. 2020 needs a hot drink.
You’re going to need something to snuggle up to while listening to Losing the Plot, or Missing the Miracle. The snuggle may not necessarily be because you’ll break down in tears, it may just be required because you need someone to hold on to while you burst into hysterical laughter because no one writes music like this anymore and, of course, Alanis still does.
Who sings things like:
The first thing that you'll notice is some separation from each other
Yes it's a lie, we've been believing since time in memorial
There was an apple, there was a snake, there was division
There was a split, there was a conflict in the fabric of life
One became two and then everyone was out for themselves
Everyone was pitted against each other conflict ruled the realm
All our devotions and temperaments are pulled from different wells
They seem to easily forget we are made of the same cells
Alanis uses all the words and the many, many words are so hard to sing along to because no one displaces the lyrics and the music like she does. Whatever any of the lyrics even mean seem to disappear in the syncopation of it all because you start to find meaning in the dissonance. Everything is shifting, nothing is normal, and the beat is, well, offbeat. Like us. Like our lives. Like this whole year.
After discussing this album at length, my wife threw out a random little factoid: Did you know that when Adele was asked what Set Fire to the Rain was about she said: "It was playing on my mind while I was trying to light a fag [cigarette] in the rain outside a restaurant." And then later that night, when she went to have a wee, the song just came into its own. Imagine? And all this time we listened while crying ourselves to sleep at night because we thought it was about love and the sting of burning tears from unrequited love, or, something… Adele you little trickster.
But no one does it quite like Alanis does, do they? Only Alanis can offer us utter perplexity when we feel most perplexed. In Losing the Plot she sings:
I'm exhausted midas. Reigniting a hunger that typically fuels those of us still searching for something outside ourselves
'Cause this city bears violence
And everybody is rushing to sob at the podium
And thank the ones who loved and exploited well
We deserve this album this year. Because all we can do to cure the frustration, the rage and the new normal is laugh our way through it and be totally, totally confused.
The first track on the album is called Smiling. And it has got absolutely nothing to do with smiling at all. Obviously. Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think? Well. Yes. It is Alanis, it is. It always has been.
Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.