Of course, Alanis Happiness -- thanks to marriage and motherhood -- is slightly less stable and far more wordy than, you know, regular folks' happiness. But she is more than eager to discuss this on "Havoc and Bright Lights" (Collective Sounds), her eighth studio album, and most cohesive effort in years. Not "Jagged Little Pill" cohesive, mind you, but far more focused than her recent musical walkabouts.
The opener "Guardian" is as straightforward and upbeat as Morissette gets, declaring her everlasting love and guardianship. It's a signal that she's still in touch with her determined "Hand in My Pocket" self, even if that rebelliousness has run out. She gets sappy on the love ballad "Til You," which is wrapped in Carpenters-like '70s gauze and delivered so tamely it makes Sarah McLachlan sound ferocious. The sweetness is all the more jarring since it follows "Woman Down," a snarling litigation of a man's missteps that lacks the bite of Morissette's earlier work.
Unfortunately, the tales of domesticity are where Morissette is on the firmest ground. When she starts going on about the problems of fame in "Celebrity" over a vaguely Eastern-influenced backdrop, it gets hard not to want to tune her out. ("I display the perfect amount of ennui," her publicity-hungry character declares, seemingly without irony.)
Morissette still has plenty to say and a distinctive way to say it on "Havoc," but, too often, it feels like a lecture rather than a song.
"Havoc and Bright Lights"
BOTTOM LINE A fussy, overwrought look at domesticity and stardom