POP MUSIC REVIEW : Alanis Morissette Commands Both the Sound and the Fury


So how good is this Alanis Morissette?

It's easy to be suspicious when: (a) an inflammatory singer gets signed by Madonna's promotionally potent record label; and (b) gets the kind of immediate sales and saturation airplay that many quality artists wait their entire careers in vain to receive.

But after Morissette's spectacular performance on Sunday at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, it's hard to be anything other than awed by this young Canadian, whose blistering "You Oughta Know" single is one of the supreme pop moments of the year.

In rock, as in politics, there's nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come--and Morissette is an artist whose time has surely come.

The alternative-rock experience has been enriched in the '90s by PJ Harvey, Courtney Love and others in a marvelous brigade of female singer-songwriters who explore the edges of emotional extremes. But Morissette is a dramatic breakthrough.

She's an artist with enough vocal command, songwriting craft and mainstream instincts to spread that exploration to a wider pop-rock audience. In her best moments, Morissette combines the raw voltage of the alternative world and the accessibility of the mainstream.

That doesn't necessarily place her above such rivals as Harvey and Love, but it does mean that she could redefine the mainstream by making her daring, confessional style the standard, replacing the far tamer approach of, say, Sheryl Crow or Melissa Etheridge.

If so, she could open a door for Harvey, Love, Liz Phair et al., most of whom have have little success at moving beyond an alternative fringe despite having made some of the most appealing and affecting music of recent years.

Coming on stage after an impressive set by the uplifting and highly melodic Chicago rock band Loud Lucy, Morissette and her four-piece band lashed out at the audience with an intensity akin to the glare of high beams in your rear-view mirror.

Wearing a full-length fake-fur coat and a boa over black leather pants and a black shirt, Morissette looked like some weird cross between Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison. But the music was authentically her own--including other songs as captivating as "You Oughta Know," notably the high-voltage accusation of "All I Really Want" and the anthem-like self-affirmation of "Hand in My Pocket."

Morissette's hourlong set bordered on slickness at times, but that may, in part, be due to the ease with which she seems able, as both singer and performer, to convey the fury that underlies so much of her music. At the end, encouragingly, she showed that she knows the difference between intensity and intimacy.

With gentle accompaniment, Morissette sang "Perfect," a song about the suffocating pressures of parental expectations, with a tenderness that was captivating--a sign that this is an artist who can be revealing even without aiming those high beams into the mirror.

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