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Less Havoc, More Bright Lights
on August 28, 2012
Alanis Morissette will not earn many new converts with "Havoc and Bright Lights," but she will keep her devoted fan base pleased with this smart, sturdy collection of tunes.
Devotees hoping for a continuation of the high watermark set by 2008's "Flavors of Entanglement" will be disappointed. While "Havoc..." may not be as impressive or irrepressible as that collection, however, Morissette must be given credit for not repeating herself. The four years, after all, have brought her into the thick of marriage and motherhood, and that is reflected in a freer, decidedly less anxious set of tunes.
Part and parcel of this new perspective are the likes of "Til' You" and "Empathy." Deceptively unengaging and soft at the core, they soon reveal their lyrical and melodic treasures upon repeated play, underscoring the irreplaceable value of Morissette's highly individual style.
Tunes such as "Lens" and "Win and Win" follow suit. Kind, altruistic and gentle are not synonymous with banal in Morissette's vocabulary. She manages to touch on themes of interconnectedness and universality without inducing groans or recycling preceding ideas. One of her key assets is an ability to express her ideas in an unorthodox, through-the-backdoor fashion, rewarding listeners with poetic ears.
"Receive" is particularly moving with its full-bodied chorus, as is the sprightly, acutely self-aware "Spiral" - they are but a few idiosyncrasies away from being radio friendly.
She still rocks hard when she wants to. "Woman Down" blisters and pierces in its righteous anti-misogyny, proving Morissette can still make her enemies cower if the spirit so moves her. Alternatively, the fierce love and nurturance that seep from the pores of lead single "Guardian" is absolutely hair-raising upon close listen.
The major flaw of the record is Joe Chiccarelli's production, which whitewashes a lot of the adventure and unpredictability out of the equation. Morissette's particular proclivities are too often bleached, giving many of the songs an unwelcome slickness and sheen, and her voice is mixed too far below the soundscapes. This serves to deemphasize what makes her unique, rather than putting those qualities front and center where they belong. Compared to Guy Sigsworth's awesome work on her last record or Morissette's own on 2002's "Under Rug Swept," it is a considerable disappointment, even though Sigsworth is still credited here on a handful of tracks.
Such detractions notwithstanding, Morissette's highly individual voice and perspective still shine through to grab the listener and take hold. She proves that, in spite of how many changes she may go through, she is still a compelling, important artist with a unique place on the shelf.
Those who complain that a wife and mother in her late 30s no longer moves and sings like her former 20-year-old self are sadly missing the point. "Havoc and Bright Lights" is the sound of a particularly valuable artist in the throes of her own evolution, and listeners are lucky to still have her recording and performing.
Different retailers and sections of the globe offer different bonus track, so do have a look on Wikipedia before choosing your edition.