Back in the late ’80s, and even up to the mid-late ’90s, MTV was at the top of the totem poll when it came to exporting contemporary music. Long before idiots flooded the day-to-day programming, the station actually held true to its name. In fact, programs catered to the music! Shows like The Hills would never fly back then, simply because programming followed the general consensus that it was a station for, well, music. As a result, even the likes of Beavis & Butt-head had to include music to an extent. However, unlike any block of time on the schedule today, some shows were just about the music. One such show was MTV Unplugged.
Though the series officially went off the air at the beginning of January of ’07, MTV revived Unplugged, but only for those with internet access. Today, the web-based revival is vamped with additional interviews and photos of the bands and artists, but the set lists don’t exceed more than six songs and it’s unlikely that the performances would ever develop into mega-hit full-length albums like say Nirvana, Tony Bennett, or when Alanis Morissette stripped down in November of ’99 — musically, of course.
By ’98, Morissette had already made a name for herself all over the world. With the untouchable success she received from the little album that could (and did do very well), Jagged Little Pill, and her follow-up, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, taking the offer from MTV Unplugged torecord an album — one that would feature her strongest hits and a few rarities only occasionally performed at her live concerts — was a wise move for the Canadian singer.
Recorded at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in ’99, Morissette hadn’t even been on the popular music circuit for five years yet, leaving her with limited choices on what to play from her repertoire. Because Morissette didn’t have any new album releases planned until ’01, she needed to find a way to include the best of her best and not just the radio chart toppers like those primarily from her debut. Who knows where her career would’ve gone if her Unplugged performance featured the same material as her recent acoustic re-issue of Jagged Little Pill?
Comprised of 12 songs, Morissette was accompanied on stage by an orchestra of 12 musicians, so the notion of an authentic unplugged performance where the singer is backed by a solitary instrument was never intended to be lived out for this particular live recording. The stand-out song that happened to be the first single from the album is “That I Would Be Good”, a track originally from Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. Comparatively, this Unplugged version’s arrangement isn’t really that different from the original. However, it sounds just as fresh as the songs she made vocal revisions for, like say “Ironic” and “You Oughta Know”.
Watching the performance is just as invigorating as listening to it. After Morissette takes the stage, she gets down to business and automatically focuses on the crowd with her large glazed over eyes. She instantly captures the sadness and vulnerability with deep exhalations and a shaky alto. As the song carries on and the music is layered by percussion and piano, Morissette becomes intensely more exasperated and the lengthy notes she stunningly holds out allow her to showcase her notorious fury that all her fans live to see.
It’s important to watch up until the end so you don’t miss the flute coda. Though classical musicians would most likely snarl up at Morissette’s attempt at the flute, the singer’s overtly powerful breathing techniques capture the essence of the song’s “never good enough” message.