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Enough With the Irony

Success didn't spoil Alanis Morissette, but it sure did depress her. Her 18-month journey of self-discovery is over, yielding not only inner peace but also a searing new album.

November 01, 1998|ROBERT HILBURN | Robert Hilburn is The Times' pop music critic

The sound of the ocean is so loud on this fall afternoon that Alanis Morissette gets up from the couch and walks across the room of her rented beachfront house to close the sliding glass door.

"I don't think the tape recorder will be able to pick up my voice over all that noise," says the 24-year-old singer-songwriter, whose 1995 album "Jagged Little Pill" has sold nearly 28 million copies worldwide and won a Grammy for best album of the year.

After avoiding the public eye for the past year while she struggled to regain her emotional balance after all the attention and pressure, Morissette could be forgiven for being a little tentative as she sits down for an interview. Yet here she is going out of her way to make sure she's heard.

Now is that ironic or what?

Morissette smiles good-naturedly at the question, remembering all the critics who pointed out that the situations outlined in her hit "Ironic" didn't fit even the most liberal definition of the title word.

Having it rain on your wedding day or getting a free ride when you've already paid are, in the words of another songwriter, more like simple twists of fate.

But Morissette put the images together in "Ironic" with a conviction and craft that were typical of the entire "Jagged" album--a collection of tales about youthful anxiety and the search for self-esteem that struck such a strong nerve among pop-rock fans that it has become the biggest-selling album ever by a female artist.

As sales soared in the spring of 1996, Morissette felt the need to draw back. Though she fulfilled concert commitments through the fall of that year, she turned down dozens of interview requests.

The public reason was that she wanted to avoid a potential backlash. Privately, she was struggling to find some inner peace--relief from the pain that had long accompanied her obsession to succeed, she admits now. How could she deal with questions about her or her future when in some ways she had lost track of who she was?

The search took the better part of a year and resulted in a period of depression so severe that Morissette came to understand how people could think about suicide.

Whether it's ironic, a simple twist of fate or a personal miracle, Morissette eventually found the tranquillity she writes about in the new album.

Titled "Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie" and due Tuesday from Maverick Records, the album is probably the most anticipated release of the year. Radio programmers have already embraced "Thank U," a deeply moving song from the album.

In a decade when mainstream pop has been characterized by the timidity of such acts as Hootie & the Blowfish and Matchbox 20, "Infatuation Junkie" is a brave, purposeful work. The album's highlights look at life's challenges and rewards with the primal-scream intensity and honesty of John Lennon's classic "Plastic Ono Band."

About her own struggle of the last year and a half, Morissette says, "Sure, I thought that fame and success would solve your problems, that there would be a sense of peace or self-esteem raised by having all this external success.

"So the question became, 'If not this, then what can make me feel connected?' . . . That's what all those months were about for me. I went and searched for it. . . . I looked for it in other people, in a different culture. I went to India. . . . But the conclusion I came to is we don't have to go anywhere.

"We just have to stop and find the answer inside ourselves . . . in our own divinity. And that was the most terrifying thing I've ever done in my life, because from as early as I can remember, I had never stopped. I had always been running after something."

*

If you are a Morissette fan, you shouldn't have much trouble coming up with some lucky Lotto numbers.

* There's 10--her age when the precocious Ottawa native landed a recurring role in the Nickelodeon cable channel kid series "You Can't Do That on Television."

* There's 14--when she showed so much promise as a songwriter that MCA signed her to a publishing deal.

* There's 16--when she released her hit debut album, titled "Alanis" in Canada.

* There's 20--her age when she wrote the songs for "Jagged Little Pill."

* But maybe the most dramatic number is 45--the number of seconds of her music that Guy Oseary, a young artists-and-repertoire executive at Maverick Records, heard before he decided he wanted to sign her.

In a classic show-biz tale, Morissette was turned down by virtually every other record company in Los Angeles and New York before she approached Maverick, the upstart label launched in 1992 by Madonna and her then-manager, Freddy DeMann.

So how could Oseary hear in 45 seconds of one song what everyone else had failed to hear in a demo tape submitted by Morissette and her producer and co-writer, Glen Ballard?

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