Jagged Little Pill Cover

My Alanis Morissette Moment


In October 2019 during a trip to the USA, I had the pleasure of visiting Brian Ackerman of Aaudio Imports in Denver. I had previously met Brian at the Munich High End show earlier in the year and we had enjoyed each other’s company so when he invited me to visit him next time I was in the US, I took him up on his offer. And I’m glad I did, because we spent three wonderful days together in his listening room, listening to some amazing music and talking hi-fi. I often say that one of the amazing things about our hobby is how it introduces you to interesting people, and this was no exception. We shared information, experiences, insights and stories while we listened to a variety of music presented by Brian’s incredible reference system. For me, there was a lot of learning that weekend and some ‘penny drop’ moments.

One of those moments relates to Canadian-American singer & songwriter Alanis Morissette. You may remember that in 1995, she released her album ‘Jagged Little Pill’, a rock-oriented album which sold more than 33 million copies globally and is her most critically acclaimed work. Well, I have to confess that although I have a lot of respect for Alanis’s talent, I never really liked her voice much and as a result, I never spent much time listening to her music. I remember Rolling Stone calling her the “Queen of Alternative Rock Angst” and to me, it was perhaps a little too much emo-angst.

So while we were sitting on Brian’s sofa, his music server randomly chooses this album and without saying anything, I thought ‘when you get a chance, politely ask him to change the music’.

The album opens with the grunge-pop “All I Really Want” featuring swirly guitars, harmonica and canned drums. The lyrics talk about ‘intellectual intercourse’ and a mental connection with another angry, frustrated, frightened, uncomfortable soul. I realised that I can relate to the feelings she’s expressing here and it reminded me of a deeper loneliness that I felt occasionally as a child. The next two songs raised the themes of living with raw anger, pushy parents and an honest portrayal of female sexuality.

I started to feel her pain and felt as though I was slowly getting to know her. I wanted to know more and the song ‘Hand in My Pocket’ presented a litany of contradictions against the backdrop of a fuzzy guitar and drum machine. She was showing me a lighter side of her personality, her self-effacing and hopeful side. The song ‘Right Through You’ featured angry lyrics about sleazy record bosses who prey on female artists who they want to ‘wine dine and sixty-nine’ rather than actually supporting their musical careers. ‘Forgiven’ draws on her religious upbringing. “I was told that if I wasn’t a virgin when I was a teenager, I must be a real whore. I believed that if I had sex I would be damned in hell forever.”

I was intrigued. I’d never really listened to her songs before and the thought of changing the music had disappeared from my mind. Rather, I wanted to know more. ‘You Learn’ features Morissette giving out advice… “Ditch the fear, open your heart, speak your mind, and when the going gets tough, walk around the house naked.” I laughed and found myself nodding my head, smiling and contemplating what would I ask her if she was here with me.

She sings ‘Mary Jane’ accompanied by a tense electric guitar, where she tries to reassure a friend who’s having a rough time. The hit song ‘Ironic’ features lyrics such as “It’s like rain on your wedding day” and “A traffic jam when you’re already late”. Although not technically a true definition of ‘irony’, I related to what she was talking about here and found myself wondering what experiences had shaped the writing of these songs. The closing song ‘Wake Up’ takes the shape of a cry for help to an apathetic world.

What? I had not only sat through Alanis Morissette’s hit album but I had enjoyed it?

Yes, I REALLY enjoyed it. Such a forcefully insular album, so deeply personal and cathartic. I felt that the reason this album struck a sympathetic chord with millions of listeners is that Alanis explores emotions and frustrations that are common to most people and she does it with no polish. Just raw, honest, intense vulnerability. She sifts through the emotional wreckage of her youth with heart and a brutal frankness. I felt this wish that I could meet her and talk about her experiences.

It occurred to me that what I had just experienced is really the true essence of our hobby. All the extreme effort that goes into creating this equipment… .the painstaking hours spent designing and building an amplifier, a pair of speakers or a cartridge… the significant cost of acquiring a great hi-fi system, the effort to set it up and optimise it. All of these things we do for the music. It’s all about having these moments.

I forgot about audiophile terminology. Not once in the last hour did I think about soundstage, instrument separation or imaging. I heard a collection of songs from an artist that in the past I didn’t really enjoy and for that hour, I was immersed in her world, feeling that she was slowly unveiling layers of her life journey, feeling her pain and enjoying her honesty. I laughed, occasionally cringed and experienced a few ‘goose bumps’.

This was my ‘Alanis Morissette Moment’, an experience of pure immersion, exploration and emotional connection to music. Unexpected, unpredictable but oh so enjoyable.