Alanis Morissette’s consistency is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, her albums can always be counted on to deliver a familiar combination of crunchy ’90s alt-rock, folk-leaning moments, and hyper-self-aware lyrics. On the other hand, this narrow focus means she’s often unfairly reduced to an unflattering caricature—whether it’s angry man-hater, crunchy-granola Earth Mother, or quirky hippie-poet.
Morissette deviated from her usual musical style on 2008’s underrated Flavors Of Entanglement, which incorporated dance beats and other electronica flourishes. While the album wasn’t a huge commercial success—and the post-Ryan Reynolds-breakup lyrics didn’t help her shed her moody reputation—its creative inspiration lingers on her eighth studio album, Havoc And Bright Lights. The hook-filled collection is a solid balance between her traditional sonic tendencies and more outré influences.
Still, guitars-blazing rock music is the predominant influence. “Guardian” and “Lens” boast heavy electric riffs, while subdued verses segue into chiming choruses on the mid-tempo “Spiral” and “Receive.” Better still is the lush, uplifting “Edge Of Evolution,” on which mild electronic zaps and yearning guitars give way to crashing choruses tangled with wordless harmonies, soaring riffs, and string swells. When compared to these well-crafted rock songs, ballads such as “Havoc” and “Win And Win” fall short, thanks to shapeless arrangements and sluggish tempos.
Havoc And Bright Lights’ organic-electric combos are far more interesting juxtapositions. The Evanescence-reminiscent “Numb” adds crushing drums, quivering strings, and ominous electronic production to its monstrous guitars; the deeply romantic “’Til You,” in contrast, marries drowsy bedroom beats with plush, layered chorus “oohs.” On the opposite spectrum is “Woman Down,” whose soft-glow disco textures are incongruously cheery (and more than a bit cheesy) for a strident song talking about triumphing over decades of institutional misogyny.
But as “Woman Down” underscores, Havoc And Bright Lights’ lyrics are unapologetic. Being assertive is a theme—on “Receive,” the repeated mantra is, “Today’s all about me”—as is not being ashamed to reveal one’s true self (the piano-driven “Empathy”), fight for beliefs (“Lens”), or admit shortcomings (“Havoc”). And even when the album’s lyrics are cringe-inducing—the hip-hop/Middle Eastern-flavored “Celebrity,” a harsh attack on fame that sounds awkward instead of biting; “Spiral,” in which she acknowledges being in a “shame spiral” with a straight face—Morissette owns the vulnerability of her thoughts. And really, there’s something admirable about being so honest and forthright, despite being in the public eye. That’s what first brought Morissette notoriety and popularity, and it’s ensured her music consistently stays interesting. Like Morissette, Havoc And Bright Lights remains fearless and vibrant despite its shortcomings.