Release date: February 2002
Under Rug Swept is the fifth album by American-Canadian singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette. Released by Maverick Records in the United States on February 26, 2002 and in the United Kingdom a day earlier, it was the first album Morissette had written and produced on her own. It debuted at number one on charts in twelve countries, including Canada, and produced the singles "Hands Clean" and "Precious Illusions". Sales, however, did not match those of Morissette's previous two studio albums.
Background and production
Before recording of the album began, when she hadn't written songs or journal entries for nine months, Morissette went to Toronto not knowing whether she was going to write songs herself or with someone else. In the first week of her stay she had written seven songs alone, and she described the writing process as "really fast and accelerated". As on her previous albums, Morissette took a stream-of-consciousness approach to the songwriting. She wrote the music and lyrics at the same time, spending around twenty minutes or less on each song, and recorded the vocals during the writing process, in one or two takes. "I really wanted to make sure that I wrote in the studio so that, while I was writing, I could be singing it at the same time", she said. According to Morissette, she had a "little space station" with a keyboard, an acoustic, an electric, her journal and a microphone set up, and everything was recorded onto DAT. Morissette had not planned to produce an album on her own, saying "It was just a matter of when it would happen organically". She "kept things from becoming overwhelming" by refraining from cross-connecting her producing, songwriting and performing duties.
Production of the album was delayed when Morissette became involved in disputes with executives at Maverick Records after she testified at U.S. Government hearings against artist-unfriendly record contract practices. As she put it, she had to go through lawyers to "have a dialogue with people" and take extended period of time to "have one little thing figured out". Because she was accustomed to having the producers on her albums act as "the buffer to the outside world" during recording, she found it a challenge to handle the situation on her own. "I was trying to be isolated enough to tap into my artistry while keeping people at bay who don't know fuck all about nurturance", she said. Eventually, it became "too much" for Morissette and she took negotiations into her own hands, which meant she had to halt her work on the album: "I had to be willing to throw the record away and not ever release it."
Despite the relatively low sales of Morissette's previous two albums, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie and MTV Unplugged (1999), compared to those of her international debut album, Jagged Little Pill (1995), Maverick Records considered her a strong commercial asset and were concerned that she would leave because of the disputes and release the album on another label. For a time Morissette was threatening to leave Maverick (according to Entertainment Weekly), until label founder Madonna intervened and persuaded her to stay. During the delay, Morissette brought in musicians such as bassists Eric Avery (formerly of Jane's Addiction) and Flea (of Red Hot Chili Peppers), Dean DeLeo (guitarist for Stone Temple Pilots) and Me'shell Ndegeocello to play on the album. After this period, in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, she previewed the track "Utopia" on her website.
During the making of the album, Morissette wrote twenty-seven songs, which she eventually narrowed down to seventeen. When she was mixing and producing the album, every time she reached the eleventh track she, as she put it, "would shut down. My brain would shut off and I just felt like it was information overload ... I didn't want to overwhelm myself or anyone else in the process of trying to cram them all onto the double CD." She planned for several of the excluded songs to be released as single B-sides or on a separate EP to be released after the album; eight of them were released on a CD/DVD package, Feast on Scraps, released in late 2002. "I just could not face the idea of letting all of these songs go", she had said. "They're all precious to me. It's just a matter of finding the right framework in which to share them with the world."
Chart performance and promotion
Under Rug Swept was closely guarded before its release: for journalists to listen to it, they had to be invited to Maverick Records headquarters and listen to a single play copy in a special listening room. In July 2001 Geoff Mayfield of Billboard was quoted as saying that because of the popularity of artists such as Radiohead and Staind, it was a "good year for rock ... It's not just one kind of rock that's connecting right now — the palette is varied. For an artist such as Morissette who comes from rock, this could be a fertile time." Other industry insiders said it may become a commercial return to form for Morisette; The Record noted Morissette's age- and gender-transcendent appeal, the "smart" lyrics on the album and the appropriateness of its "soulful introspection and spiritual awareness" in a post-9/11 society, and how Morissette "stands out from everyone else on radio ... there are few artists addressing relationships in a serious way, especially from a female point of view."
"Hands Clean", the album's first single, began receiving radio airplay in North America in January 2002, and it debuted at number one in Canada. It peaked inside the top forty on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S., where it was most successful at Adult Top 40 and Hot AC radio; in one week more Hot AC stations added the single to their playlists than any other song in history. It was considered a comeback single for Morissette, and it was her most successful single since 1998 in most countries, reaching the top ten in Australia and the top twenty in the United Kingdom. For February, the album's month of release, Morissette was "Artist of the Month" on AOL Music.
Under Rug Swept entered the Canadian albums chart at number one with first week sales of 35,000 copies, and the CRIA certified it platinum the following month for shipments of 100,000. In the U.S. the album sold 215,000 copies in its first week, debuting at number one on the Billboard 200 chart during a busy sales week following the 2002 Grammy Awards ceremony; it stayed in the top spot for a week. Within a month of release it had sold 500,000 copies, and the RIAA certified it platinum for shipments of over one million. Under Rug Swept debuted at number one in twelve countries, including Germany, Japan and Australia. It debuted at number two in France and the United Kingdom, where the BPI certified it gold for shipping 100,000 copies.
The album stayed in the top twenty on the Billboard 200 for five weeks and on the chart for twenty-four. A second single, "Precious Illusions", was released to radio in May 2002 and reached number four in Canada, but it failed to chart on the U.S. Hot 100 or inside the top forty in Australia or the UK. Later in 2002 Morissette embarked on a world tour, which did not pick up album sales. In August she performed at the V2002 festival in England. After the failure of "Precious Illusions", Maverick did not commercially release any more singles from the album, although "So Unsexy" was tentatively slated as the third single at one point. Promotional singles were issued internationally: "Flinch" and "So Unsexy" in Brazil, "21 Things I Want in a Lover" in Latin America, "Surrendering" in Canada, and "Utopia" in the U.S.
Under Rug Swept received a Juno Award nomination in the category of "Pop Album of the Year". Morissette herself won the "Jack Richardson Producer of the Year" award for the songs "Hands Clean" and "So Unsexy", and she was nominated in the "Artist of the Year" category.
As of September 2008 the album had sold 1,017,000 copies in the U.S., half the amount sold by Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie by the same date. According to a Maverick Records press release, Under Rug Swept had sold 3.8 million copies worldwide by February 2004.