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Under Rug Swept

Morissette Makes Mediocre Self-Producing Debut

By Devdoot Majumdar

staff writer

Under Rug Swept

Alanis Morissette

Warner Brothers

Feb. 26, 2002

The other day, I noticed that Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full had found a place for itself in the “discount books” shelf of several bookstores. After several pangs of sadness, I realized that Wolfe’s fame would probably sell the unappetizing book. And that’s also when I realized that Alanis Morissette’s latest album was destined for the exact same fate. Big name, forgettable work.

So Morissette comes out with the much-anticipated new album, even conjures up a little wit to snip into the title, Under Rug Swept. And then for about a year, the material writhes in disuse as she and her record label battle out the details. A publicity stunt later, her third album is out and my guess is that it’ll probably take a gestation period of about two weeks or so to get over the one memorable track and start seeing Morissette’s latest artistic endeavor in used CD shops.

Under Rug Swept is Morissette’s first crack at the self-producing game, and she doesn’t do a shabby job. Rather, the shabbiness manifests itself in the songwriting, which is unremarkable. Whereas a relaxed listen to all twelve tracks of her first album, Jagged Little Pill, was enjoyable, or at least appreciable, one discovers a “turn it off” reflex to Under Rug Swept.

Since January, the first single off the album, “Hands Clean” has found a captive radio audience. Retelling another confused and ambivalent relationship, “Hands Clean” features a subversively catchy melody; organically acoustic verses coupled with a louder, glamorous chorus; and an orchestral bridge. Lasting about four and a half minutes, it’s perhaps the only redeeming chunk of the 11-song, 50-minute album.

“Hands Clean” is one of those inexorable songs that one finds the urge to repeat over and over indefinitely. After a month of repeat, it’s still much the enjoyable experience, but its excellence sadly belies the rest of the album.

The remaining 10 songs on the album are tainted with the ordinary. There’s a saying in the music industry that to find a truly great song, you have to sandwich it in between the greats (Zeppelin, Fiona, Spears). This album, except for the one notable exception, is quite sub-par in this respect.

“Flinch” unearths Morissette’s whine, as she wails through a yawn of a song to an unchanging acoustic drawl. “Precious Illusions” presents a similarly regrettable state of Alanis’ musical yearnings, as does “That Particular Time” to a tinkering piano as Morissette’s voice meanders in a style fitting for a live show.

And then there is the hard Alanis. We all remember “You Oughta Know” and the other rock escapades Morissette embarked upon in her first album. And we might even remember “Thank U” from her second album, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. Imagine this album to be the Hegelian synthesis of those two extremes.

Songs like “A Man,” “21 Things I Want in a Lover,” and “Surrendering” present a rocked-out Alanis with oddly wandering melodies. Granted, they harbor complexities that supercede three-chord rock’n’roll, but they’re not appetizing either. Essentially, it’s music only a fan of Morissette can enjoy by virtue of having lower standards for an artist one already enjoys (the Tom Wolfe effect, if you will).

Among Morissette’s more salient characteristics are her candidness and ability to be sweet without being saccharine. Her uncautionary frankness from both a lyrical and vocal standpoint distinguishes her from her drab competitors. Under Rug Swept bears a few unsuccessful attempts at resurrecting the endearing honesty. “Narcissus” attempts to master “sweet rock” with a promising melody and a blasÉ opening resounding of stifled guitar. It is perhaps the second best song on the album, but with a sing-songy chorus and much unneeded complexity, the song isn’t “radio ready.”

All in all, the Under Rug Swept presents the latest progression in Morissette’s musical stylings. Without “Hands Clean,” the album is little more than a stepping stone to what this critic hopes is a more developed style. With the hit single, however, the album is destined for fans and those who enjoyed the vocal meanderings of her last album, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie.