As time marches on, nostalgia of course goes along with it. So, with the passage of time, we’ve arrived at an era of nostalgia for the 1990s. Hard as it may be for some to believe, 20th and 25th anniversaries for major releases in the ’90s keep occurring – and items are released in commemoration. Thus, Rhino has recently reissued Alanis Morissette’s 1995 smash album Jagged Little Pill in a variety of iterations including a 2-CD version and a 4-CD Collector’s Edition. When Morissette traveled to Los Angeles in the early ’90s and eventually began to collaborate with co-writer/producer Glen Ballard, the success to come did not enter their minds. But, as we know, the success did arrive and Pill became one of the defining albums of the decade. This new edition lets us look back on the time around the creation and promotion of the album. Is it a journey worth taking?
The first CD of the set is a newly remastered version of Jagged Little Pill itself. As it was one of the best-selling albums of the 1990s, is there much more that needs to be said about Pill? It became a phenomenon which has been credited with influencing and making possible a generation of female artists and confessional songwriting. But, away from all of that, does the music still resonate today? And the answer is: yes, it does. The album is a seemingly unvarnished personal statement of 19 year-old Morissette’s feelings and thoughts at the time, mostly concerning relationships. The predominant attitude is one of anger, but there are strains of hopefulness and playfulness seeded throughout. You can see the foundation of the more upbeat and spiritual overtones Morissette would take on subsequent albums. However, for a deeply personal statement, the themes addressed by the artist are universal and relatable. And while the album certainly sounds of the mid-1990s time in which it was recorded, it still captivates.
The second CD presents ten demo tracks, written and recorded for possible inclusion on the album as well as during and after the Jagged Little Pill tour. Of the demos which could have included on the original album, each one has a reason for being omitted. Most are from before Morissette and Ballard found their perfect writing relationship and just feel different than what ended up on Pill. “The Bottom Line” was the first song they collaborated on, and, while they hadn’t gelled as a songwriting team, you can feel that something good was going to happen. “No Avalon” is an impressive track but feels even too dark for Pill. And “Superstar Wonderful Weirdos” was perhaps too idiosyncratic for inclusion. Of the demos recorded after the album, “Gorgeous” and “Death of Cinderella” are standouts. Even after finding huge success, Morissette still had things to get angry about in life. Also, the package lists all of the songs as being unreleased, but that does not mean that they have been unheard. For instance, version of “London” and “These Are the Thoughts” showed up as B-sides of the “Joining You” single in 1999.
If you pick up the 2-CD set at Target stores, it features an additional seven bonus tracks. These come from a radio performance in Holland on June 9, 1995, a few days before Pill was released. Six of these tracks were on the Space Cakes EP in Japan in 1995 and a couple of them showed up as the B-sides of singles. The performance of “Hand in My Pocket” is previously unreleased. These tracks are a fascinating listen in that they are very stripped down and acoustic with just Morissette and perhaps one other person performing the song with just guitar and harmonica. For someone wanting only to purchase the 2-CD set, Target’s exclusive would be the version to seek out.
Released 10 years later in 2005, Jagged Little Pill Acoustic comprises the third disc of the Collector’s Edition. Normally, when hearing the term “acoustic” in relation to rock albums, one thinks of less orchestrated versions of the songs. That is not the case here. When revisiting the work, Morissette and Ballard chose to add a string section which certainly changes the flavor. In addition, many of the songs have different or extended instrumental sections. And, of course, Morissette’s vocal interpretations of the songs changed in a decade. Now, there is no problem with an artist wanting to revisit a work or come at it from a different angle. However, as they say, magic can only be captured once. Especially with the added string arrangements, the songs don’t sound as urgent or raw as on the original Pill. Therefore, much of the appeal is lost. It is somewhat fascinating to hear the music in this different context and Acoustic is a welcome inclusion here for completeness’ sake. But it is hard to imagine someone choosing to listen to this over the original if given a choice.
The final CD in the Collector’s Edition is a previously unreleased concert from London’s Subterranea in September 1995. The tracklisting is exactly the same as Pill, just with the songs in a different order. The concert is from relatively early in the tour, and the band shows a few rough edges. Presumably, the compilers wanted to capture the rawness of an earlier performance as opposed to a more polished one from later. There is an energy to the music here which is different than that of the original album. It is also interesting to hear Morissette introduce relatively unknown songs to the audience which will soon become huge hits. However, it is a bit repetitive to hear the same twelve songs on three of the four discs. There is variation in the performances, but listeners may want to take breaks between listening to each disc. Note that some live B-sides from the era have been excluded from all iterations of this set, but having a complete concert does give a better feel of the time than scattered performances.
The Collector’s Edition is presented in DVD-sized digibook format and is a classy package. The booklet features an 8-page essay from Morissette and a 4-page one from Ballard. Also included are many photographs from the period. In addition, the complete lyrics for all of the songs are presented – even the demos, in a nice touch. There are only a couple of minor criticisms. One is that the musician credits are not included for the live disc, despite credits being included for the other discs. (The musicians are introduced on the CD, but it would have been nice to credit them in the book.) Also, no discographical information on the albums or singles has been included. Remastering is credited to Chris Bellman and, while there is not much improvement to notice on recordings of such relatively recent vintage, the quality and sonic detail are good. The 2-CD set is in a normal digipak and contains a smaller booklet, losing the Ballard essay, some photographs and lyrics.
Jagged Little Pill still stands up as a landmark album 20 years later. The themes it expresses are timeless and well-worth revisiting. Rhino’s compelling Collector’s Edition is very thoughtfully produced and should be an easy buy for huge Morissette fans. However, if you are a little more value-conscious, the 2-CD set (especially with the Target bonus tracks) contains the best parts of the reissue (the original album remaster and the demos) so you may want to seek that out instead. But, if you are fan of the album or want to discover for the first time just what all the fuss was about, either version is well worth your effort to acquire.
Both editions are available now: