Alanis Morissette's career has been much like a regular old human life. Spend an adventurous, unpredictable youth, then settle into predictable routines. These days, you pretty much know what you're getting when you buy an album by Alanis.
The constant maiming of word pronunciation is, I would assume, an attempt on the part of our songstress to come across as some kind of supposed former unpredictability junkie. And yet that has become one of her most predictable habits. How ironic is that? I don't have any particular feelings about this habit of hers. I find it mildly funny at times, I've yet to be annoyed to any extent worth mentioning.
This musical landscape, known as So-Called Chaos is a mixed bag, albeit a very familiar one. There are a couple of heavily-drummed rockers a la "Joining You", balladry that ranges from pretty to abrasive as per usual, a pop ditty or two tossed in there, and the first Alanis song ever to breach 120 beats a minute.
The arrangement of the songs is simple, almost too simple. There are 10 tracks. The odd-numbered tracks are fast or middle of the road, while the even-numbered ones are ballads. Even a simple change-up such as switching the placement of the 6th and 7th tracks would have spiced it up a bit. I also find that certain pairs of songs jump out as being extremely similar. ("Excuses" and "Spineless"; "Out Is Through" and "Not All Me")
However, Alanis' great voice hasn't changed a lick.
"Eight Easy Steps" hits you right off the bat with one of those "What the hell?" moments as the listener pries for a melody. With overlapping vocals and a hysterical pace, it's pretty much guaranteed that you won't understand a word until you get to the chorus. Which is why it's fortunate that Alanis continues to bless us with the lyrics in the CD liner. This song reads like a How-To list from hell, but a nice angry way to jump into things.
How to control someone to be a carbon copy of you
How to have that not work and have them run away from you
"Out Is Through", much like its twin sister "Not All Me" brings back the saccharine sweetness of songs like "UR" and... well yeah, "UR". "Out Is Through" is the slower and more richly produced of the two, while "Not All Me" sounds so much like something I've heard before. Strangely enough, the two songs have something else in common -- they both use the word "assuage".
"Excuses" and "Spineless" both bring in the huge drums and dark, rocking melodies to back up their contrasting lyrical musings. These will both probably end up being singles, and then people won't be able to tell them apart. I still can't tell those two songs by Go West apart though, as far as that goes. "Excuses" is a pensive number about making excuses to keep your feelings bottled up ("These excuses, how they've served me so well, they've kept me safe inside my shell"). "Spineless" on the other hand, finds Alanis poking fun at all the ladies who submit to their man's every whim, no matter how it affects them.
I'll redefine self-sacrifice
Live my life as apologetic compromise
I know you'd leave if I rocked the boat.
Listening to songs like those, it's not too surprising to learn that John Shanks, producer for pop acts like Michelle Branch, had a hand in this. Just listen to the way the drums blast in on Michelle's duet with Sheryl, "Love Me Like That", then listen to the same thing in "Excuses". Doth I obsess too much?
"Knees Of My Bees" is an extremely bizarre title. I can't blame anyone for thinking, by that title, that this would end up being an even stupider song than "The Hokey Pokey". But truth be told, it's not so weird when you get used to it.
It is, however, one of the worst examples of the whole unorthodox accent thing. Alanis comes in first, dropping syllables like a leaky water faucet, before the drums join in to help direct the listener as to what the hell is going on! When this song gets going, though, I've gotta say it's quite infectious.
As to any possible meaning behind the song's title (which is basically the crux of the chorus -- "You make the knees of my bees weak, tremble and buckle") I'm willing to assume that most of the postulations have been made by now. My first thought is always that the bees are somehow a more intense version of butterflies (as in the stomach). Perhaps bees in her bonnet, or the birds and the bees have something to do with it as well. But nothing quite says love like making a fool of yourself in front of millions of people, so I'm sold.
"Doth I Protest Too Much" has a really good chorus that actually sounds more like something that would lead into a chorus. And those are often the best parts of songs anyway. The title track, "So-Called Chaos" is a slow, abrasive sort of industrial-rock sounding song, I guess. I never can make much "sense" of the melody here. It sounds almost celebratory, but also extremely messy, like getting drunk at a graduation party. "This Grudge" is probably the best of the ballads, as Alanis finally finds it in herself to make peace with the very turmoil that jump-started her career in the States...
I want to be big and let go of this grudge that's grown old
All this time, I've not known how to rest this bygone
I want to be soft and resolved, clean of slate and relaxed
I want to forgive for the both of us
The first time I heard "Everything", I was in New York and my body wouldn't sleep. I didn't take too kindly to the song the first time. It seemed too much like a slower "Thank U" without the hooks. Fortunately, I have grown to love it through repeated exposure, as seems to be necessary with the singles from her even-numbered albums. It's a cool way to end the album, and with "Spineless" just before it, this may be one of the very few instances in which the last two songs on an album become singles. I'll always love this little blurb from "Everything"...
You see all my light and you love my dark
You dig everything of which I'm ashamed
What I (or anybody) wouldn't give.
Final verdict here comes down to 3.5 stars. But with only ten songs, I think I'll have to take some off the top and call it (yet another) threester. Surely if they had given So-Called Chaos another six months to blossom, there could've been a lot more to get lost in. But as it is, it comes and goes way too fast. Still worth it, though.
P.S. You really should see Brian's review. One of the greatest reviews on this site.