So Called Chaos
Alanis likes lists. She opened her last album two years ago with "21 Things I Want in a Lover." On her latest disc, So Called Chaos, she opens with "Eight Easy Steps," where she details her cynical, jaded "course of a lifetime," which she can teach in just eight easy steps. Among the key elements of her "how-to" course? "How to stay paralyzed by fear of abandonment; how to defer to men in solve-able predicaments; how to control someone to be a carbon copy of you; how to have that not work and have them run away from you."
Um, a little jaded, yes.
But that's not surprising from the singer of the ultimate spurned woman song, "You Oughta Know."
Musically, Morissette's third studio album since her groundbreaking 1995 Jagged Little Pills CD is a rousing pop affair, but its undercurrent of incessant female relationship victimization remains steady.
The disc opens with the deceptively upbeat "Eight Easy Steps" followed by the inspirational "Out Is Through." which details a troubled relationship. The track concludes that the only way out is to work through the problems.
In "Excuses," Morissette sings of being saved and trapped by one's own easily spun daily excuses for not trying one thing or another: "These excuses how they've served me so well/they've kept me safe, they've kept me stuck…they've kept me safe inside my shell" she sings.
She covers similar ground in "So-Called Chaos" when she sings atop a pounding, nervously urgent rhythm of freeing herself from deadlines and meetings and structure: "I want to be naked running through the streets…I want to drop all these limitations but the shoes upon my feet."
With "Doth I Protest Too Much" she goes back to the relationship roulette, this time playing the girlfriend whose beau has a wandering eye. She bravely submits that "I'm not threatened by every pair of legs you watch go by/I don't cringe when you stare at women/It's just a thing called guy."
After many such assertions of strength, she asks the key question that undoes all her courageous shows of strength: "Doth I protest too much?"
Alanis plays the ever-downtrodden victim of the evil male again in "Not All Me," when she complains of a mate who abuses her because of the pain of his past bad relationships: "I bear the brunt of your long-buried pain/I don't' mind helping you out, but I want you to remember my name."
Later, she sings of completely abandoning her own identity to "cater to you and hang on your every word" so she can salvage a relationship and be "Spineless."
It all closes with "Everything," the album's first single, an affirmation of self based on the love in another's eyes. After the lists of self-deprecation and victimization throughout the album, it's a song of salvation that is truly a revelation.
Morissette sings in amazement about at last finding a lover who accepts her despite all her shortcomings: "You see everything, you see every part…and you're still here."
It's the perfect encapsulation of love, and after all the messed up relationship songs, it's a wonderful cap to another strong effort from Alanis.
Honkin' On Bobo
Aerosmith's latest album is a departure for the classic hard rock quintet, taking them back to the very roots of rock and roll – the blues.
The album opens with the "shake-rattle-and-roll" rhythm of Bo Diddley's "Road Runner" and Jimmy Reed's "Shame, Shame, Shame," two of the disc's best tracks. Aerosmith's trademark high-octane rock complements the snap-rock style of the originals.
On some of the more gospel-blues oriented tracks, like "Jesus on the Mainline" and Willie Dixon's "I'm Ready," the Aerosmith hard rock sound seems a bit mismatched. The inherent soul of the songs is lost.
You have to wonder if Honkin' On Bobo materialized because the band was playing a "best of" collection from Mississippi Fred McDowell on their tour bus. McDowell's "Back Back Train," and "You Gotta Move" both get the Aero treatment as do two other classics McDowell was known for covering – J.L. Williams' "Baby, Please Don't Go," and the traditional "Jesus Is on the Mainline."
Singer Steve Tyler's affected growls don't carry "I'm Ready" with the depth it deserves and are too fast and processed to capture the bluesy emotion that should drip from "Baby Please Don't Go." But he does a fine job capturing the urgency of "Road Runner" and "You Gotta Move."
Guitarist Joe Perry actually offers the album's most traditional blues vocals. Perry steps to the mic with guest singer Tracy Bonham for a swampy, vintage-sounding Delta blues recording of "Back Back Train" and also performs Peter Green's rockin' blues strut "Stop Messin' Around."
For blues aficionados, Honkin' On Bobo might come off a bit heavy-handed and blasphemous, though Tyler's harmonica and Aerosmith's heart were in the right place.
But for rock fans without a grounding in rock's roots, Bobo is a good introduction to the parent that raised rock 'n' roll. She's just gone and had a leather-and-tattoo makeover.