“And isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?”
Welcome back to the protracted narrative that is the second naïveté of my musical awakening. My apologies for the hiatus, borne as it was from a combination of Covid slovenliness, the mundane exhaustions of fatherhood and the profound impossibility of finding something original to pen about today’s track. Ironic.
Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill is one of the bestselling albums of all time (33 million global sales and counting) and a staple filler of SOTB’s inaugural decade. On its 25th anniversary it remains one of those rare albums with a quintessentially distinctive sound, subsequently much imitated but never bettered. Morissette and producer/co-writer Glen Ballard wrote and recorded a song a day at Ballard’s home studio , and amazingly retained the original demo vocals for the final cut, all of which were captured in one or two takes. That live, raw and fresh lyrical brilliance snaps and fizzles out of the speakers from the opening, “Do I stress you out?” all the way through to the concluding “ if I cry all afternoon”.
Although I could have nominated many other (less reviled) JLP singles that appear later in the canon (Mary Jane, Head Over Feet and Hand in My Pocket all being outstanding contenders), Ironic takes the crown for notoriety. It’s also just a damn great track. The twinkly folksy acoustic opening exploding into a monster chorus, anthemic with its grungy power chords and layered soaring vocals replete with lilting harmonies, driven on a bed of 90’s distorted drum loop. The Grammy nominated video is pretty strong too, even if it did suffer the plague of yet another “Weird” Al Yankovic interpolation in 2003. This is a song that perfectly lends itself to driving down a snowy highway in a 1978 Lincoln Continental Mark V, caterwauling the chorus whilst pounding the steering wheel and/or narrowly being decapitated by a passing bridge.
As to the lyrical content, more than enough sincere, po-faced and condescending white male superior hot-takes have already crashed like waves upon this monolith of a pop song, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. For what it’s worth, I’m with professor Simon DeDeo, whose forensic apologetic posits an 85% hit rate for irony, be that situational, Hegelian or other. He concludes that, “[s]ince its inception, people have used it as an example of how the subtleties of irony escape the grasp of popular culture, and cited the lyrics to demonstrate their superior grasp of the concept. They hear, but do not hear.”
I do hear, and I hear the exuberant soundtrack of the Spring of 1996, vivid in all its jangling untamed brilliance.
Always Be My Baby Mariah Carey
My Girl The Temptations
Listen to Your Heart Roxette
The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite R.E.M.