Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie remains Alanis Morissette’s most interesting album, one ripe for rediscovery.
It’s hard to imagine dealing with what Alanis Morissette went through in the years following 1995’s Jagged Little Pill. Fame had always been it for Morissette, first as a child star and then as a pop star, but when she transitioned to being a rock star she became famous. Since its release, Jagged Little Pill has become the 10th best-selling album of all time. In 1996, it won Album of the Year at the Grammys and the Junos. The album birthed four number one singles in Canada and two more top-ten hits. Jagged Little Pill was and continues to be ubiquitous in a way that is no longer possible or even fathomable. Each one of these songs is as inescapable, even decades later, as the next.
A dark shadow always seems to reveal itself in the wake of anything as successful Jagged Little Pill. It arises out of the strangulating expectation to repeat that success in order refill the pockets of your proverbial masters. It didn’t make it any better that Morissette was trying to do this in the late 90s, one of the strangest and most turbulent eras of recorded pop music. Ten days before Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie was released, the video for Britney Spears “…Baby One More Time” premiered on MTV. The wave of rock music that rolled in after the grunge comedown of the big four and Britpop had been swept away by the grotesque, mostly unredeemable garbage island that was late-90s rap rock and shock rock. Napster was mere months away. Factors completely out of Morissette’s control led to her big follow up landing like an autumn leaf — dead atop of the pile, disturbing nothing. All that said, it certainly disturbs me twenty years on.
Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie is a confounding album. The music pulls Morissette in a million different directions, so it would be generous to call it cohesive. It is at least twenty-five minutes too long, no doubt a symptom of the time. It is full of contradictions, sounding like everything and nothing all at once. Whittled down, it could be Morissette’s best work.
It’s not her best work of course. This is something I feel I must acknowledge before digging into Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie while ignoring the nearly forty percent of the record that should have been saved for the boxset. That means after this instance you will not hear about “The Couch”, “Can’t Not”, “I Was Hoping”, “One”, “Heart of the House” and “Your Congratulations”. Aside from the “The Couch”, all of these songs have redeemable qualities, but for the most part they just stop you from getting all the way to the record’s strong back half. I am cutting out the middle. I realize this is viciously revisionist, but it’s a fun experiment nonetheless.
Morissette’s voice is the only consistently strong feature on Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. It is emotionally resonant and sounds more lived in than it did on Jagged Little Pill. She also relies less on the iconic frills she employed so often on her major-label debut. That doesn’t mean she sounds neutralized, though; she hits huge notes and weird notes, but clearly has a better sense of when to hold back and serve the song. That is an impressive quality given the various vibes employed throughout the record. The nearly-nü fury of “Baba” predates and predicts the more radio-ready System of A Down songs that would be all over the radio a few years later. “That I Would Be Good” is a lighters-in-the-air-type ballad, celebrating self-acceptance and the fleeting nature of relevance and youth; it’s a song that could go toe-to-toe with the best Sarah McLachlan anthems. “UR” and “Thank U” are glimpses into the future, sounding similar to the chilled-out adult-alternative of Morissette’s next album Under Rug Swept. One of the most striking songs is “Would Not Come”, a trip-hoppy rager that presents a direction that should have been further explored on future releases. “Front Row” and the infectious, jubilant “So Pure” also employ electro-style drum beats that make the sound very 1998, but in a good way.
The sheer number of sounds and ideas that populate Supposed Infatuation Junkie fit the record’s lyrical themes perfectly. This a “finding yourself” record if there ever was one. The twenty-years ahead of its time “Unsent”, finds Morissette reflecting on and eulogizing her past loves by name. “Are You Still Mad?” hits on similar themes. Of course, there is the classic famous-person spiritual journey to India that features heavily, namely on the perennially marvelous “Thank U” (her best song, fight me) and on “Baba”, which flips the narrative by casting suspicion on those that make the pilgrimage to India for a spiritual quick-fix. Elsewhere, tracks like “Joining You” and “Would Not Come” find Morissette running in philosophical circles attempting to understand the strange reality of her life and life itself.
The allure of Alanis Morissette has always been that she seems real, down-to-earth and honest. And that may be true, but it isn’t hard to imagine her feeling a greater sense of removal from us mere mortals in the wake of Jagged Little Pill’s success. In her searching, however, she created a complex record that captures the all contradictions of being human. In the wake of the changing musical culture, she pulled together a strange, occasionally indulgent, but mostly interesting array of sounds that would find her holding her own at Woodstock 99 and in constant rotation on Much More Music and adult-alternative radio stations everywhere. While its run-time and comparative lack of cultural impact will always prevent it from being Morissette’s best record, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie remains her most interesting and ripe for discovery. It takes patience and some work, but once you accept its contradictions, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie becomes much less frightening. All I ask is that you skip “The Couch”. Always skip “The Couch”.