Emma Ballantine

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Influences: Alanis Morissette

The Christmas present that taught me music could be a little rough round the edges

The year is 1995 and I am nine. I'm doing what all children do in about October and making a Christmas wish list. My mother is concerned.

'I don't think Father Christmas brings CDs with parental advisory stickers on them', she says, as I add Jagged Little Pill to the mix (she has already investigated this particular object of my desire on a recent trip to Ourprice).

I remind her that I have already heard all the songs thanks to a tape made for me by an enlightened babysitter from the Netherlands - a tape which has almost melted from overuse. This is a good point, although it does nothing to allay her concerns. My newfound love of sweary, slightly screechy Alanis Morissette has taken on an emblematic significance for my mother. It is the Beginning of the End of My Childhood.

In truth, it was a long time before I got all the references in that album (I had a vague idea that 'going down on someone in a theatre' might have...er...'romantic' connotations but couldn't have been specific if questioned about it). What I did hear was a female singer letting rip about life, with a voice swerving between a top-of-the-lungs blast and almost childish fragility. I heard her railing against her lovers, her parents, the church, and the rest of the world around her, wryly observing its hypocrisies and dissecting her own psychology with cold precision. And then occasionally she would pick out moments of sweetness and hold them up to the light - in her frank ballad Head Over Feetfor example.

In other words, she was a complete antidote to the sugary pop and 1980s staples still being pumped out in the school discos and shopping centres of my pre-teen existence. My best friend at the time - a Celine Dion fan - was troubled by the aggressive, sometimes ugly vocals, but I loved their harsh, uncompromising honesty (and she went on to become a bassist in a punk band, so I think, eventually, she did too).

Even now, a full 18 years later, I still find new things to appreciate in those songs: lyrics will suddenly jump out with new meanings as I get older. Not The Doctor takes on new significance when you've propped up a needy boyfriend, Forgiven makes more sense when you've fallen out of love with religion, Mary Jane hits you harder when you've seen a friend constantly hurt and worn down. And years of playing All I Really Want at full volume means that song is now a way to connect myself back to the past - to hundreds of places and moments in my life.

My own music bears very little resemblance to Alanis Morissette: I have none of the harsh edges and - I hope - a little less of the anger (although you should have heard some of the sarcastic lyrics I turned out aged 15!) But that album was the first time I understood the powerful catharsis that songs can give - not just for the writer, but for the audience too. My song Perfect Crime (http://youtu.be/lreb1z6_FgA) is probably the closest one I have to her style, tackling the damage that can be done to a person's confidence within the confines of a supposedly 'loving' relationship.

I've found there's a real divide between those who think Alanis was one of the best artists of the 90s, and those who find her music too jagged a pill to swallow. But regardless of whether more eloquent and elegant artists exist out there, that album has a raw energy, and a braveness that still inspires me.

2.39pm 18th Apr 2014