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Alanis Morissette Mocks Starlets, Frank Ocean Gets Erotic

"Havoc and Bright Lights" by Alanis Morissette. The CD is the eighth studio release from the Canadian-American singer-songwriter, who has moved to a Sony label from Maverick Records. Source: Collective Sounds/Sony via Bloomberg

Aug. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Alanis Morissette has calmed down with marriage, motherhood and middle age.

Her mellow new album is called “Havoc and Bright Lights,” though “Harmony and Candlelit Dinners” would be more appropriate. This soundtrack to middle-class cocooning has no edges to grate the airwaves.

The anger of her breakthrough “Jagged Little Pill” in 1995 included the woman scorned on “You Oughta Know.” She then lapsed into hell-hath-no-fury threats at her replacement: “an older version of me” and “I’m sure she’d make a really excellent mother.” Now, that person is her.

She’s also moved on from the sob stories on her last release, “Flavors of Entanglement” (in 2008) provoked by a break with a previous fiance. She perks up with a happier opener, “Guardian,” which praises maternal instincts. “Receive” discusses the joys of giving and taking in a relationship.

Morissette at last shows she’s not totally crazy, a popular misconception sparked by activities such as the all-nude video to “Thank U.” That accusation of eccentricity is lobbed at many female rock singers who show a little individualism -- Tori Amos, Bjork and Regina Spektor, to name just three others.

Only now and again does Morissette break out of the domestic-bliss box to raise her voice and tempo. “Woman Down” attacks sexism. “Celebrity” skewers starlets with their fake tans and emotions. It’s a pity there isn’t more of this fire.

Guy Sigsworth’s slick production is relentlessly professional and as lively as cuddling up on the sofa with a box of chocs. Rating: **.

Morissette could take some lessons in passion from the U.K. band Noisettes, whose lively CD “Contact” is also out this week.

Lead singer Shingai Shoniwa gets worked up on songs such as the catchy “That Girl.”

(I happened to sit next to her on a flight to the U.S. once and her animated enthusiasm about just about everything was refreshing. This joy for life shines right through on the record.)

The Noisettes’ pop is spiced with retro soul and will surely yield a big hit Stateside sooner or later. Rating: ***.

Frank Ocean established himself as one of rock’s hottest new acts with the mixtape “Nostalgia, Ultra” -- surely one of the best rock listening experiences of last year.

It takes a few weeks to fully digest the New Orleans singer’s latest, “Channel Orange.” His warm baritone is coupled with immense ambition on the 10-minute “Pyramids.” Ocean recalls the bravura and eroticism of the early Prince. Rating: ****.

Lettie, a U.K. singer-songwriter, is another one to watch. Her “Good Fortune, Bad Weather” is a strong collection of electro-pop, ranging from the bouncy “Lucky” to the gentle “Bitter.” Rating: ***.

New Yorker Mike Tyler is wheeling out gigs for his likeable new record.

He played a show at the small London arts center the Horse Hospital last week, backed by his talented producer Bl’eve, in front of maybe 20 people. I have a feeling it will be to a larger crowd when he’s back next.

His new CD is called “Erection.” It’s worth forgiving this gratuitous double entendre. His quirky collection has tales of solitude (“Man Alone,” “Lonely Tonight”) and love (“Linda”). There’s something of Lou Reed’s deadpan style and the flippancy of Jonathan Richman. Rating: ****.

On “An Awesome Wave,” U.K. band Alt-J tries hard, a little too hard, to please the record company, critics and indie rock fans alike. It needs to chill a little. For all that, songs like the ambitious “Tessellate” make for a highly impressive debut. Rating: ****.

What the Stars Mean:
*****      Exceptional
****       Excellent
***        Good
**         Average
*          Poor
(No stars) Worthless

Morissette is on Collective Sounds, Frank Ocean on Def Jam and Tyler on Ais Records. The Noisettes CD release on Ais in the U.K. is on import until Sept. 4 in the U.S. The Lettie and Alt-J discs are also on import from Outer World Records and Infectious Music respectively.

Download fees vary across services. The albums are priced from about $12 in the U.S. and 9 pounds in the U.K.

Information: http://www.alanis.com, http://frankocean.com, http://www.noisettes.co.uk, http://www.lettiemusic.com and http://erectionerection.com, http://altjband.com.

(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Martin Gayford on art, Richard Vines on U.K. restaurants, Ryan Sutton on U.S. restaurants and Hephzibah Anderson on fiction.

To contact the writer on the story: Mark Beech in London at mbeech@bloomberg.net or http://twitter.com/Mark_Beech.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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