Saturday, April 30, 2011

30 Songs, 30 Days (2009 Edition), Day Twenty Four: You Oughta Know by Alanis Morisette

I think it would take us only a few minutes to list all these female singers that came onto the scene suddenly as a 'startling new feminist voice'....only to slowly fade out after that first fistful of hits. Although I guess an argument could be made for Tori Amos being the first, Alanis Morissette was arguably the one that attracted the most attention. Who can deny how this single (and its accompanying video, with the painfully angular Morissette walking through the desert carrying that painting) acted like a massive shot across the bow of pop culture that year? And how the anger in that song got kinda forgotten when all the other singles from Jagged Little Pill got dropped. Let's face it--it's hard to keep that fury in mind when MTV is showing us that same fury acting as a spazz in the back of the car.
What's funny is how the two other women that more often than not get lumped together with Morissette--Amos and Fiona Apple--seem to cut from the same template. All three, according to their bios, were driven to their uniquely raw sound by personal trauma. Of course, both Amos and Apple were raped, which kind of makes Morissette's tale of entering into a sexual relationship with a much older co-star before she was ready seem...petty in comparison. And given how Amos and Apple continued to mine deep into the female psyche (Amos successfully, Apple not so much), while Morissette got all hippy on us before returning to rehash her complaints with the much less angry--although very engaging--'Hands Clean' also diminished her in people's eyes.

I don't think Morissette's body of work holds up in retrospect, but I also don't think that means we should dismiss the raw, angry power of this song. Sure, it's now more catching lightning in a bottle than the first shot across the bow of pop culture we thought it was...but on its own it still has the power to bite, and bite deep.

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