Brendan Howard, Author

Don't You Think?
An Open Letter To Alanis Morissette

When I first heard "You Oughta Know" on the radio, Miss Morissette, I must admit that I was blown away by the ferocity of your lyrics and the passion of your performance. I found your kiss-off to a back-stabbing ex-boyfriend to be incredibly cathartic, and I thank you for that. More than anything, I was impressed that you could come out of nowhere and emerge as a fully developed and credible artist, without years of paying dues like other ladies in rock (Liz Phair comes to mind).

Too bad that was all a bunch of hooey.

Oh, it's not all your fault, Alanis. You didn't falsely present yourself as a streetwise gangsta like Vanilla Ice, or pretend to sing like our old friends Rob and Fab in Milli Vanilli. But I feel like I was led astray when you were introduced to American culture. Did we know about your stint on Nickelodeon's "You Can't Do That On Television"? Were we made aware of your frothy dance-pop albums that enjoyed moderate success in Canada? Did anyone tell us about the Chili Peppers who played on "You Oughta Know," or the creative input of mega-producer Glen Ballard, or the jillions of dollars that Maverick (your Madonna-owned record label) was willing to spend so you could effortlessly become a rock phenomenon?

You didn't mean any harm, of course. I don't mean to suggest that you are an evil, manipulative bean-counter like a few gangsta rappers that I could mention. But it feels like we didn't have a choice, Alanis. We were forced to accept you as the quintessential voice of Generation X. Which would be okay, if you weren't such a trite dunderhead.

You followed the success of "You Oughta Know" with a little ditty called "Hand In My Pocket" which grasps at poignancy with no real results. So you're making a peace sign, and flicking a cigarette, and playing a piano. Big deal. "All I Really Want" has the same types of problems. Listening to the whiny screeching of your voice is often like swallowing a jagged little pill, and it's hard to take when these affected vocals don't communicate anything of value. You're not Bob Dylan. Why can't you just stick to things you know? Things "You Oughta Know"?

Vocabulary is not your strong point, either. Let's talk about "Ironic." Were you paying attention in high school when the concept of irony was discussed? Rain on your wedding day is not ironic. It just sucks. The only thing that can be truly be described as ironic is a statement, where the meaning literally expressed is the opposite of the meaning intended. "Well, isn't that nice?" is an ironic response to a plane crash, but nothing else in this song fits the definition. I might put down my dictionary and forgive your ignorance, but the song is nothing more than a list of events that are supposedly ironic. And you didn't even accomplish that. On the other hand, you made a great video for this single. My six-year-old nephew loves it. He loves the song too. Does that tell you anything about the depth of your lyrics?

Then we have "Head Over Feet," your touching love song. This time you made a list of sappy statements a girl might say to her boyfriend to express her love. It's a cute song, and you sound quite sincere. But let's discuss word choice. Why "head over feet" instead of the existing phrase "head over heels"? Did it make you feel more poetic and groundbreaking to chop up a nicely consonant phrase and insert an inherently dopey word like "feet" where it doesn't need to be? You just sound stupid.

I know these are harsh criticisms, but someone has to say it. You've won a truckload of awards for this crap. Jagged Little Pill has become the best-selling album by a female artist in history. You're beloved by countless pre-teen girls who admire your intelligence, high school girls who admire your assertiveness, boys and men who admire your breasts, and fully grown women who admire your nerve and your bank account. Start thinking, Alanis! You have a responsibility to your fans and your career! The best aspect of your only masterpiece, "You Oughta Know," is the streak of rage and pain that is hammered into the listener's soul by the throbbing bass and guitar you borrowed from Flea and Dave Navarro. What made you believe that performing an orchestral version at the 1996 Grammies would intensify this? It may sound pretty, but it's just plain empty. Exactly like you.

© 1997- Brendan Howard
All rights reserved.