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Alanis Morissette


Alanis Morissette

Morissette's singing career was launched in 1987, when local Ottawa impresario Stephan Klovan showcased the 12-year-old Alanis in a children's musical revue for the city's spring Tulip Festival. Despite her inability to do a cartwheel (which was the audition test), Morissette proved beyond a doubt that she had an impressive set of pipes - after all, she had already succeeded in recording one of her own songs, "Fate Stay With Me," and was performing in a cover band called New York Fries. (She had also developed some name recognition on Nickelodeon's You Can't Do That on Television, a series for pre- pubescents, and had appeared in the role of an aspiring rock star in a minor film, co- starring with future Friends star Matt LeBlanc.) Klovan took an avid interest in the precocious young girl's raw talent, and set about securing other performance opportunities; his efforts yielded gigs singing a pumped-up version of "O Canada!" at major sporting and civic events, as well as an appearance on Star Search.

Grooming her in the image of then-popular pop princesses Tiffany and Debbie Gibson, he next shot a glossy video in Paris to promote her to record labels - the result was a contract with MCA Records.

Credited simply as Alanis, Morissette's first album of pop danceables, Alanis, was issued in 1991, and her first single, "Too Hot," was soon edging its way into the Top 10. In Canada, the album went gold, then platinum, and Morissette was nominated for three Juno Awards (Canada's equivalent of the Grammy): Single of the Year, Best Dance Record, and Most Promising Female Vocalist (which she won). Things were looking bright, a fact confirmed when she was engaged as the opening act for rip-off rap star Vanilla Ice. She started work on a follow-up album while still attending high school and juggling a relationship with the much-older actor Dave Coulier (you know, the star of TV's Full House and America's Funniest People). The resulting album, Now Is the Time, marked an attempt by Morissette to angle

Alanis Morissette

away from her teen dance-party sound toward a much more serious teen dance-party sound, and it was not quite as well received - fancy that. It was obvious that her genre was on the decline, and she needed to come up with a new artistic vision. At the age of 17 - as most of her high school classmates were trying to decide what jobs to pursue or what colleges to attend - Morissette was entering her first career crisis.

After graduation, Morissette moved to Toronto to seek out potential new musical collaborators. The ensuing couple of years rewarded her efforts with nothing but creative dead ends. Then she gave the L.A. music scene a try (her introduction to the city was being held up at gunpoint by a Hollywood mugger). Early in 1994, she had the serendipity to knock on the door of songwriter-producer Glen Ballard's home studio. In Ballard, a former staff producer for Quincy Jones (he co-wrote Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror," and worked with Paula Abdul, Wilson Phillips, and David Hasselhoff, among others), Morissette finally found the right creative collaborator to draw out her unique voice. Their initial meeting and the phenomenal success of their subsequent recording sessions prompted her to move to Los Angeles so that they could work uninterrupted. Both had come from slick, more commercial pop backgrounds, and were intent on pushing their music into more adventurous terrain. They succeeded beyond their wildest expectations: With Ballard's songwriting prowess backing her, Morissette unleashed her deepest, most torturous self-analyses. Far from the shiny-happy ditties of her former teen-queen career, her caterwauling lyrics poked and prodded her sexuality, her relationships gone awry, her relationship with the Catholic Church, her plaguing perfection-seeking, her encounters with lecherous industry honchos, and other issues of identity and self-reinvention - while somehow maintaining a note of self-affirming optimism.

A bevy of recording-label suitors expressed interest in the demo tape from her sessions with Ballard, but Madonna's Warner-distributed Maverick won out in the end. The resulting album, Jagged Little Pill, shot up to the No. 10 position on Billboard's Top 200 album list within six weeks of its release, largely on the strength of the song "You Oughta Know," which became the anthem of angry neo-feminists everywhere. (The Mississippi House of Representatives passed a resolution to honor the song's co-author, native-son Ballard, but after listening to the vituperative lyrics and realizing that they included the "F" word, they rescinded the honor.) To gain more performance experience, Morissette assembled a touring band, unofficially called Sexual Chocolate (Ballard had handled most of the instrumentals in the recording studio, with Flea and Dave Navarro of Red Hot Chili Peppers contributing overdubs on the rhythm section on a few of the tracks), and quickly became the hottest concert ticket of summer 1995.

Morissette's meteoric rise wasn't all smooth sailing, however: Her resurrection as a serious songstress with serious psychosexual gripes alienated many fans in her native country, and a number of skeptics viewed her as a poseur conveniently jumping on the "alternative-music" bandwagon. Some people found it hard to forget, or forgive, her mindless dance-pop roots and her formerly ratted hair. But it was impossible to downplay Morissette's achievement: Jagged Little Pill dominated Billboard's album chart for literally years, and she garnered an impressive six Grammy Award nominations (she trundled home with statuettes for Album of the Year, Best Female Vocal Performance for "You Oughta Know," and Best Rock Album). Boasting over 16 million copies sold since its June 1995 release, Jagged Little Pill long ago surpassed Whitney Houston's first album as the best-selling U.S. debut of all time by a female solo artist.

Morissette's 1997 schedule included only two concert dates: the June Tibetan Freedom Concert in New York and the October Bridge School Benefit hosted by Neil Young. In late fall, she and trusted lieutenant Glen Ballard headed back into the studio to commence work on the follow-up to Jagged Little Pill. She also landed a role on the big screen, playing God (yes, that God) in Kevin Smith's already controversial forthcoming film Dogma.

The early part of 1998 was relatively Alanis-light, though she did contribute the song "Uninvited" to the City of Angels soundtrack. During the hiatus, the singer journeyed on a backpacking trek around India. Upon her return, she started gearing up for the November release of her sophomore effort, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, for which she kicked off a 12-date club tour in October in preparation for a full-blown road trip slated for early 1999. Also heralding the album's release was the single "Thank U," in which she pays homage to the country of India, while addressing more personal concepts like frailty, disillusionment, and silence. Morissette seems to be letting go of past resentments and getting on with life - could the angry young woman behind "You Oughta Know" be trading her vitriol for inner peace?

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