by John Franck
The famous sophomore jinx. Some have survived it Smash Mouth and Bush come to mind. But for every Foo Fighters there are 50 Tonics or, even worse, 50 Spacehogs waiting in the wings. Even the most talented fall prey to media scrutiny for having committed the cardinal sin of failing to equal the success of their freshman outing. In case there was ever any doubt, just ask Alanis Morissette.
By her own account, in the aftermath of Jagged Little Pills extraordinary success, Alanis became disenchanted and burned-out by a two-year album-tour cycle. And yet the world awaited the follow-up. As Alanis seemingly reached a creative impasse, she retreated to India to ponder her life. When the creative spark returned, she began work on Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, an album heavily influenced by her catharsis.
SFIJ was preceded by a promising single, "Thank U," and concurrent to its airwave debut, a media juggernaut was set in motion. This in turn was followed by a minishowcase tour. Then it all went wrong.
Out of the box it was clear that Junkie was no Jagged Little Pill II. The albums cumbersome, chorusless songs resonated with mediocre success as they became tarnished by Alanis over-the-top stream of consciousness.
Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie was overflowing with unfinished ideas and lacked the focus and singles from Jagged Little Pill.
Worse, the ensuing follow-up tour featured an all-new touring band. Whereas her first touring band placed a heavy emphasis on chops and good looks (i.e. charisma), Alanis new band, although musically competent, was visually lifeless. With the spotlight now solely placed on her, the shows suffered. And like the album, they didnt gel.
Fortunately for Alanis, MTV Unplugged has allowed her to redeem herself. But more importantly, it revalidates her as an artist. When pared down, Alanis songs work well in this setting. Her band (the same group of players that backed her on the Junkie tour) is allowed to stretch and turn old friends like "You Learn" into new gems. A clever cover of the Polices "King of Pain" proves that Alanis does have a sense of humor after all. The clunkers are few and far between. With the exception of "I Was Hoping" and "These R the Thoughts," her Unplugged set is a winner on all levels.
A worthwhile effort by an artist who hopefully has yet to wear out her welcome.