Classic Album Review: Alanis Morissette – Jagged Little Pill

This week there will be no messing around with any Mickey Mouse, common-or-garden, Diamond certified albums – no siree. This weeks album is a proper whopper. With 33 million copies sold, lavish helpings of adolescent angst, anger, bile and righteous indignation, this week’s classic album review takes a look at the 12th best-selling album of all time. A globe straddling, chart shattering, absolute monster of a release – even Tay Tay (blessings be upon her) has cited it as an influence – that quickly turned an obscure North American pop singer into a global superstar of the post-grunge era. It’s the breakup album to end all breakup albums. Hell hath no fury… It’s Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill.

Alanis Morissette – All I Really Want

Morissette is a Canadian singer-songwriter, musician, and actress from Ottawa. She began her career in music as a child actress, released her first song at 10 and signed her first record deal at the age of 14. During these formative years, Morissette’s career allegedly included some deeply inappropriate guidance and handling, and it’s the anger and trauma of this period that drips from 1995’s Jagged Little Pill.

Written (with her songwriting partner Glen Ballard) and recorded when she was just 19, the album (her third) was rejected by a number of record companies before finally being released in June 1995, when Morissette was still only 21. Her management team expected the album to do moderately well. They were hoping for sales figures high enough to justify the recording of a follow-up album. However, the album quickly began to pick-up heavy airplay and was supported by some extraordinarily powerful live performances from Morissette. Take a look video below. It’s a 1995 rendition of her then-current single (the lead single from the album) “You Oughta Know”. The song as recorded is best described as raw, personal, scathing and explicit. Her live performance of this song (backed by a lavishly talented band) is incendiary – it builds from subdued disturbance to a full-on, tour de force of anger, bile, rejection and sexual frankness that still hits hard, well over 25 years since it first dominated the global music charts.

Alanis Morissette – You Oughta Know

For many, this type of visceral performance was their first encounter with Morissette and they quickly earned her plaudits, media coverage and fans in equal measure. In a recent (highly recommended) HBO documentary about this album, Morissette expounded on her early experiences in the music industry and documents the way in which her struggles with feelings of shame over her exploitation (which she now views quite simply as statutory rape) bled over into this cathartic release. She took the personal and the private, made it resonate universally, and created an album that began to sell in astonishing numbers. The album produced six international hit singles (half the tracks on the album: You Oughta Know, Hand in My Pocket, Ironic, You Learn, Head over Feet and All I Really Want).

Alanis Morissette – Hand In My Pocket

As the sales racked up, the awards began to roll in. Morissette picked up five Juno Awards: Album of the Year, Single of the Year, Female Vocalist of the Year, Songwriter of the Year and Best Rock Album. At the 1996 Grammy Awards she picked up the gongs for Best Female Vocal, Best Rock Song, Best Rock Album, Album of the Year, and was nominated in several other categories. In 1998, the film of her tour to support the album picked up a Grammy Award for the Best (long form) Music Video.

Alanis Morissette – Head Over Feet

Although the grim mood of tracks such as Right Through You and You Oughta Know captured most of the headlines, the album has its lighter moments. One of these is the track “Ironic”, which has become infamous for being a track about irony, that doesn’t contain anything ironic and rather ironically seems to support the old maxim about North Americans not being able to understand irony. Morissette has said: “I’ve always embraced the fact that every once in a while I’d be the malapropism queen, and when Glen and I were writing it, we definitely were not doggedly making sure that everything was technically ironic”. Comedian Ed Byrne performed a stand-up routine about the track (link below) in which he jokingly attacks the song for its lack of ironies: “The only ironic thing about that song is it’s called ‘Ironic’ and it’s written by a woman who clearly doesn’t know what irony is. That’s quite ironic.”

Ed Byrne – slates Alanis Morissette

Alanis Morissette – Ironic

The music critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine described the album as a fascinating exploration of a young woman’s psyche that unflinchingly explores emotions most people would be embarrassed to articulate in such a public way. Additionally, given that the album is so doggedly and determinedly insular, and plays like an emotional purging of a troubled individual, it’s remarkable that Jagged Little Pill struck such a sympathetic chord with the tens of millions of listeners it so clearly did.

Morissette continued to record and release a string of successful albums in the years that followed the enormous success of Jagged Little Pill, including “Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie,” “Under Rug Swept,” and “So-Called Chaos”. In addition to her music career, she has also appeared in several movies and television shows, including “Dogma,” “Weeds,” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The album has been the subject of a HBO documentary, has been successfully re-released on a number of occasions (usually as anniversary releases), forms the core of her current tour, has been successfully adapted as a stage musical and, over a quarter of a century since it’s initial release, continues to define and dominate the career of Alanis Morissette.

Alanis Morissette – Jagged Little Pill (Full Album)


  • All I Really Want
  • You Oughta Know
  • Perfect
  • Hand in My Pocket
  • Right Through You
  • Forgiven
  • You Learn
  • Head over Feet
  • Mary Jane
  • Ironic
  • Not the Doctor
  • Wake Up”


  • Vocals and harmonica: Alanis Morissette
  • Guitars: Glen Ballard, Dave Navarro, Basil Fung, Michael Landau, Joel Shearer
  • Bass: Lance Morrison, Flea
  • Keyboards: Michael Thompson, Glen Ballard, Benmont Tench
  • Percussion: Rob Ladd, Matt Laug, Gota Yashiki


Featured Image: oouinouin from Nanterre, France, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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