Own It or Disown It: #279: Meredith Brooks, Blurring the Edges

OwnItorDisownIt

We'd make an Alanis Morissette joke, but all of them have been made over the course of the past twenty years.
meredith-brooks-blurring-the-edges

James Cameron recently weighed in on Wonder Woman, and while he made it clear that he thinks it is a good film, he’s drawn quite a bit of ire for stating that he feels that it marks a step backwards for representation of women in film. Qualifying his criticism with that he created Sarah Connor, Cameron made it clear that he thinks having Gal Gadot be awesome and pretty isn’t what is good for women in film. Putting aside whatever merits his statement might have, it really isn’t Cameron’s place to determine what is strong escapism and representation for women given he is a man. He might not find it empowering, but there’s no shortage of women who’ve found power from Wonder Woman, and that’s something worth respecting. This, then, puts me in an odd spot.

In case you’ve no idea who Meredith Brooks is and why her work is worth discussing, let’s go back twenty years. Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill was a critical and commercial smash, selling thirty-three million copies and getting nominated for nine Grammys, and that was enough for record suits to look for the next Morissette. It wasn’t as though it was difficult to make money in music twenty years ago (at least as part of a major), but you didn’t want to be stuck bragging about your one-hundred foot yacht’s great personality when all of your peers were bragging about their two-hundred foot yachts. Enter Meredith Brooks, a brunette singer-songwriter with a salty mouth, and Capitol wasted little time in making her into their Surge to Morissette’s Mountain Dew.

I know I’ve been talking a lot more about Morissette than I have about Brooks, but to be fair, that’s how Brooks was talked about twenty years ago. Her signature tune, “Bitch”, is virtually indistinguishable from anything on Jagged Little Pill, at least with its obvious aesthetics, and her habits as a performer so closely resemble Morissette’s that there are people who still think “Bitch” is Morissette’s song. Frankly, that there’s still confusion about whose song it is can only be construed as an insult towards, um, Morissette.

Look, I’m not about to pretend that Jagged Little Pill is a perfect album or even a great one (read my full, sloppy thoughts on it at the above hyperlink), but there’s a substantial amount of wit among its singles. “Bitch” is a sloppy attempt at reclaiming a slur—“I’m a bitch, I’m a lover / I’m a child, I’m a mother”, I am the Alpha and Omega, I am the one and only, I am Jack’s raging bile duct. It has always registered as novelty to me, and revisiting it this week hasn’t changed my perspective, but I do remember, back when the song was big, seeing a lot of women express empowerment from the tune. I suppose there’s some value to this endeavor—anything that takes the piss out of toxic masculinity has at least some merit—but it’s telling that the only lyrics I can recall from the song after a week of digesting it too many times come from the chorus and bridges (I remember being confused by the line “I’m a bitch, I’m a tease / I’m a goddess on her knees”; I get it now).

“Bitch” is about as noteworthy as the lyrics get. The rest of Blurring the Edges registers as how 1997 sounds: a comically clean soundtrack to spinning around in a field of flowers. Opener “I Need” sounds like how “Pepper” by Butthole Surfers would sound if Jessica Simpson covered it. The lowpoint is the ballad “Watched You Fall”, an overwritten breakup song that Brooks doesn’t have the voice to save. Elsewhere, the mean crunch of “Shatter” would have made for a fine follow-up single; truth be told, I get more out of that track than “Bitch”. The whole thing registers as a wonderful, unintentional period piece. They literally don’t make albums like this anymore, and I think that’s enough for Blurring the Edges to earn a soft recommendation. It is basically fine, though there are countless better ways for women to become empowered through music than this.

…I mean, maybe. I’m not really qualified to say that unequivocally. But, oh, c’mon, even a lesser Neko Case album is…okay, I’ll stop.

VERDICT: OWN

Read past editions of Own It or Disown It.

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