Updated: May 19, 2021
I was late to this. I did not get it at all. I was a lazy fifteen-year-old boy when it came out. What I heard was anger and stories I did not really try to understand and because of that I did not hear the brilliance of the hooks, the melodies and above all the wisdom that were held in these songs.
That is not to say that anger is not in these songs. It is. Front and centre for many them and that means that Jagged Little Pill is not a piece of work to simply wash over you. Even so, the sounds are not brutal. The savagery is in the words and in the voice of the artist herself and even a quarter of a century later they retain their power.
‘You Oughta Know’ is only the most famous example of this. It still hits pretty hard. Too smart to just be a howl into the void. The target of the song is clear – an ex-lover so completely skewered that you almost feel sorry for him. Not quite though. He had it coming and we are left with the eloquent fury of a woman scorned.
As with much of the record there is a feeling in the storytelling of thoughts, feelings and even a place in the world being in motion; of an artist on solid ground even as they work through the transition from who they were to who they might still be.
There is abundant wisdom in how this is expressed, specifically in the understanding of a myth we are presented with as children: that adulthood brings clarity to the tension that lies between the people we want to be and who we really are. Those who have suffered traumas in childhood, particularly revolving around divorce or separation are made aware much earlier that adults – specifically parents but authority figures in general do not really know what they are doing. This will often manifest itself in angst, anger and a feeling of being out of place.
We hear this in songs that take aim at the Catholic Church, the entertainment industry and the inadequacies and iniquities of a variety of men. There is so much more to it though and what comes through is the good sense in the words that transcends and elevates. ‘Not the Doctor’ deals with co-dependency in a relationship, ‘All I Really Want’ deals with the need for connection and an obsession with communication that also underlies all the other songs on the record and ‘Mary Jane’ appears to be a reflection on the need for self-care – “Please be honest, Mary Jane. Are you happy? Please don’t censor your tears.” Put simply, every song on here is an anthem designed to call out oppression. Whether that is external or internal does not matter. She treats them the same: as something to be overcome not given into.
And for me, coming to this late the one that blows me away is ‘Hand in my Pocket’, which is, to put it simply, pop genius and smart enough to flirt with platitudes and reveal a greater truth that lies in the contradictions that form us; acknowledging that this is not always going to be easy and still finding the hope that remains. That is another beautiful gift within the sweet cathartic rage of the record. I only wish I’d tried listening sooner.