BASTARD CHILDREN examines the maligned, rejected black sheep of artists’ discographies. We kick things off with 1998’s Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie
Occasionally, a record gets so big that it rules the world. It’s hard to think of Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill as a risk, but it really was — especially for the woman who made it. She was a Canadian teen-pop princess playing it safe in the vein of squeaky-clean stars like Tiffany and Debbie Gibson. After that, to make something as righteously vulnerable and no-bullshit as ‘Jagged Little Pill’ is a feat, especially while still making irresistible pop singles beloved by little kids, teenagers, too-cool-for-school adults, and a surprisingly big percentage of their parents too.
Her fumbling with the definition of “ironic” pales in comparison to just how good the record is. The angst was real too. She had been groomed for stardom from a young age, developing anorexia and substance problems at the age of 14. All of this baked-in anxiety bled into her songs, and the world lapped it up. Naturally, after selling 17 million copies, her record company decided to leave Alanis and collaborator Glen Ballard in the driving seat, because she knew what she was doing. Right?
Well, three years after her blockbuster, she delivered what might be the most noble failure in 90s pop music. It sold less than a fifth of ‘Jagged’, and while that was still in the millions, the record dropped like a stone after the initial hype. Her public stature has never since recovered. Some years later, one magazine would dub it the 23rd worst album of all time. It doesn’t take more than a cursory listen to work out why. ‘Jagged’ had 12 tracks and half of them were hit singles.
Of the 17(!) tracks that make up this mess of a follow-up, only one of them had any potential for radio play. This is a weird, weird record – an unrestrained unfiltered sprawl that outlasted the attention span of most of its audience. It is, nonetheless, somewhat amazing. She was spilling her guts before, and now she’d doubled down to show her bones. Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie is a comprehensive snapshot of one woman grappling with the flaws of herself and the world. She found fame and fortune, but not contentment. Anyone who wanted ‘Jagged Little Pill part 2’ was left thoroughly disillusioned. Self-righteousness has been replaced with an explosion of empathy, and a humble desire to understand.
At times, it’s clear she’s actively trying to make you uncomfortable. There’s a disarming frankness and even-handedness, whether she’s recounting domestic abuse, conversing with a suicidal childhood friend, or writing candid open letters to former lovers. The music follows suit.
Hit Play on ‘Would Not Come’ and you can easily imagine optimistic pop fans across the world racing for the Stop button. It’s a song that induces the panic and dread within the listener and the effect is startling, not to mention cathartic. Meanwhile the pop-Sabbath of ‘Baba’ takes shots at the hypocritical spiritual leaders she met in India, and the shadowy Eastern-tinged trip-hop oddity ‘The Couch’ eavesdrops on therapy sessions in which identity and moral centre are blurred. “He died in the arms of his lover. How dare he.” She needs to be forgiven for the ‘Ironic’ debacle by now, because she’s often a great lyricist here. She has a lot to say and she says it, verbosely and with conviction.
As dark as it gets, there is so much forgiveness and light to balance it out. ‘Unsent’, which directly addresses five past boyfriends with gratitude and concern, is plainspoken as it is touching; ‘That I Would Be Good’ is a ritualistic mantra for self-acceptance; ‘So Pure’ sees her re-embracing dance-pop with a giddy and off-kilter flare, addressing her own bitterness and throwing it to the wind.
Closing with a fond note to her mother and an unflinching condemnation of her father, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie paints a complicated picture. It’s maybe a little overstuffed too. At least two or three tracks could have been dropped or cut in half (here’s looking at you ‘Can’t Not’). Nonetheless, imperfections are part of this album as much as they’re part of Alanis Morrisette, or anyone else. While it’s certainly not for everyone, it’s one of the most thought-provoking, brave and soul-searching records of any era. Jagged Little Pill changed the world, but that’s not to say that …Junkie didn’t change a few lives. It’s a privilege to hear.
Words by Joe Anthony Hill