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Willing to Face the Music

Nearly crushed by early fame, Alanis Morissette returns to the concert circuit wiser, tougher and reinvigorated.

April 02, 1999|ROBERT HILBURN | TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

It sounds strange to describe someone who is just 24 as a pop survivor, but Alanis Morissette's story brands her as one.

Few recording artists have run into the kind of acclaim and commercial attention that Morissette did after the release of 1995's "Jagged Little Pill," her first "adult" album following the two she made in Canada during her teens.

In such songs as the confrontational "You Oughta Know," Morissette explored questions of relationships and self-esteem with intensity and candor, selling an estimated 30 million albums worldwide and winning four Grammys, including album of the year.

But the attention and endless touring sent Morissette into a depression so deep that she came to understand how someone could contemplate suicide--not that she actually considered it herself.

It was only after considerable soul-searching that she felt ready to face the public again--first last fall with "Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie," an album that chronicled her search for inner peace in frank and demanding terms, and now a tour that brings her to Southern California for three shows, starting Saturday at the Cox Arena in San Diego.

Was she nervous about stepping back into a world that had drained her so much before?

"I had some apprehension, but also I had renewed energy," she says of the tour. "I have perspective this time, a better sense of how to take care of myself and how to manage my time.

"I feel more open on stage now. Before, I tended to get into this self-protective mode because of how much energy was being thrown my way. This time . . . the craziness has died a certain amount, which I am very thankful for--the high-pitched, nonstop screaming throughout the whole show, so much I couldn't even hear myself. The audience is more into absorbing the songs now."

Still, there are moments when she starts feeling overwhelmed again, even if they are fewer and less severe.

"I slip into the old-mind set, but rather than slip into it for six months, I slip into it for six minutes," she says. "I make a change immediately . . . whether it is asking a friend to come visit, or me saying no to certain things, or taking the day off. I have learned my lesson well."

Morissette is so unguarded in both her music and interviews that it's easy for people to typecast her. The explosive edges of "You Oughta Know," an R-rated tale of a woman's fury over romantic betrayal, led to her being labeled the "angry young woman" of pop.

The more philosophical, comforting messages of "Infatuation Junkie" have caused her now to be seen by some as--in the slightly amused Morissette's own words--"a nouveau spiritualist."

Does the typecasting make her want to temper her feelings, in music or interviews?

Not at all.

"There are times where it is appropriate and not appropriate to speak of certain things," she says. "I still respect my own boundaries or other people's boundaries, but [generally] I can't even imagine not speaking the truth . . . and to pretend to be someone I'm not. No matter what you do, people are going to have opinions about you . . . so I'd rather it be based on who I really am."

Future Career Moves May Include Film Work

Though the new album is not showing signs of matching the enormous sales of "Pill," Morissette isn't defensive when the figures are mentioned. Besides, the album's sales--an estimated 7 million worldwide--are impressive indeed by most standards, especially for an album that is so challenging.

There are parts of "Infatuation Junkie," including "Thank U" and "That I Would Be Good," that combine the accessibility and punch of the best pop, but there are others, notably "The Couch," when Morissette gets so caught up in telling a very personal story that she sacrifices some of her pop instincts.

Still, it is a remarkably powerful work, and she stands behind it. She is currently directing a video for "So Pure," a song from the album.

Morissette is interested in exploring acting and directing in films, but she is committed to touring for most of the year, and she is gratified by the audiences' response so far to the songs from the new album.

"I realize that the album was definitely a challenge," she says. "It was a snapshot of a very intense time in my life, a time when I was healing a lot, and I wanted to communicate it in order to move through it."

*

Alanis Morissette, with Garbage, Saturday at Cox Arena, San Diego State University, 8 p.m. $30. (619) 594-6947. Also Tuesday at the Arrowhead Pond, 2695 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, 7:30 p.m. $35. (714) 704-2500; Wednesday at the Universal Amphitheatre, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, 8:15 p.m. Sold out. (818) 622-4440.

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