The Used began writing for Artwork in early 2008, and originally hoped to enter the studio shortly after Kevin Lyman's 2008 "Get a Life Tour" with Weezer front-man Rivers Cuomo as producer of the album. The Used expressed their interest in the raw sound found on Weezer's 1996 album Pinkerton, and hoped to create a similar sound by working with Cuomo. The band ended up working with producer Matt Squire (Panic! at the Disco, Boys Like Girls, The Receiving End of Sirens) and did not enter the studio until the end of 2008.
The Used experienced several changes upon making Artwork. The band changed management within their label Reprise Records. This was the first album with new drummer Dan Whitesides; also the first studio album that was not produced by Goldfinger's frontman John Feldmann. Feldmann had been working with The Used since lead singer Bert McCracken threw a demo on stage during a Goldfinger concert in 2001. Commenting on the band's state prior to these changes, guitarist Quinn Allman felt that, "we were kept in a space with our resources that was creating an essence for our band that wasn't who we truly were." These changes allowed The Used to take their music in a new direction with Artwork.
The song 'Kissing You Goodbye', was noted to be a song written about lost love and hope. A collaboration between Bert McCracken and Max Kennedy (writer), the song speaks volumes about personal emotions and not letting go of the hope of real love. Kennedy (pen name) attributed the lyrics to a personal experience he had with the suicide of his friend in 2006 in Los Angeles. Kennedy and McCracken met coincidentally at a Used show in Orange County where they collaborated on the writing and creation of 'Kissing You Goodbye'.
Feeling that the band's previous albums had a similar sound, The Used hoped to make a brand new genre they refer to as "gross pop" with Artwork. In Alternative Press magazine, McCracken described the new genre, "In the past, we've always kind of brought pop sensibility into heavy rock, but this is going to be all that much more tantalizing and brutal. Our songs are 10 times messier and noisier than they've ever been." The themes of the record include "coming to grips with how much you really hate yourself" and the concept of mortality. McCracken, who had previously lived a "reckless life," recently came to terms with how easy it is to accidentally die after the tragic death of actor Heath Ledger. The song "Meant to Die" is loosely based on the death of Ledger and not being able to say "sorry," or "I never meant to die" after an accidental death.
This album features Bert McCracken's brother Joseph McCracken singing at two songs.
At shows prior to the release of Artwork, The Used performed the new track "Blood on My Hands". This song was the first single from the album, and was released on June 30, 2009 as a vinyl picture disc and digital download. The song began airing on radio stations starting July 14, 2009. "Born to Quit" was released to radio on December 15, 2009.
Artwork was released in a special CD/DVD version. This version contained an expanded 20-page liner note booklet and a DVD with "behind the scenes footage" of The Used.
The album leaked 2 months before its release.
Leading up to the album's release, The Used released guitar tabs for one song from Artwork each week on their official website. Fans were encouraged to record themselves playing each song and post it online.
The album opened at #10 on the Billboard 200 with 35,000 copies sold. The song "Something Safe" was made available on iTunes for download on November 23, 2009.
The Used released a music video for the song, "Empty with You", on December 9th.
Artwork received mostly mixed reviews from music critics. Metacritic has given the album a score of 56 out of 100 based on 8 reviews. The album fared better on Sputnikmusic, receiving a score of 3.3 out of 5 based on all reviews, indicating "great". Sputnikmusic user Trey Spencer awarded the album 4 stars out of 5, summarizing his review by saying "The Used make some adjustments in their sound and end up with an album that will require a few listens to really sink in."
Alternative Press praised the album highly, saying "On their fourth full-length, the Used have delivered not only the definitive album of their career, but arguably one of the best records you'll hear in 2009." On the other hand, PopMatters was very negative of the album, saying, "After sampling the tasteless, bland delights of Artwork though, I can't imagine many will."
All tracks written by The Used.The Used
Bert McCracken – lead vocals, piano, keyboards
Jeph Howard – bass, backing vocals
Quinn Allman – guitar, backing vocals
Dan Whitesides – drums, percussion, backing vocals
Joseph McCracken – vocals on "Blood on My Hands" and screaming vocals on "Meant to Die"
Jed Bleecker and "Killer" Dayton Killian – vocals on "Blood on My Hands"
Produced, engineered by Matt Squire
Mixed by Neal Avron
Mastered by Ted Jensen
Assisted by Edward Colver and Nicolas Fournier
Digital editing by Bill Appleberry
Photography by Quinn Allman and Paul Rayner-Brown
Artwork by Paul Rayner-Brown
Cover photo, creative director, design by Frank Maddocks
A&R by Craig Aaronson