The InsiderOne Daily Report

  Friday, March 16, 2001

Wilco Take Another Chance

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: It takes a lot of guts for successful recording artists to mess with the formula that won them fans in the first place. In the half-century since the birth of rock, relatively few artists have been willing to take chances and evolve their sound when there's a potential price to pay. The price can be high — both Prince and one of his inspirations, Joni Mitchell, are examples of what can happen when you don't stick to what the public wants. As Prince broke from the pop-funk and rock of his successes, his audience started to diminish, just as, two decades earlier, Joni Mitchell abandoned folk-rock for a jazz-inspired sound and found herself in a similar situation. Yet for the right artist, taking a chance can pay off, both creatively and commercially (despite his later problems, Prince had great initial success on both fronts as he followed his muse). The Beatles and Bob Dylan were perhaps the first artists to take serious chances, radically altering their sound yet keeping their audience; years later, the Talking Heads and Paul Simon brought heavy world-beat influences into their music and found many receptive fans. In the '90s we saw Tom Waits almost completely reinvent his sound. Still, the last half-decade provides few examples of popular (or semi-popular) artists engaging in that kind of risk-taking — certainly Sonic Youth constantly challenge themselves, and both Pearl Jam and Radiohead have pushed themselves hard. And Wilco bandleader Jeff Tweedy refuses to be pigeonholed, which is one reason I admire Wilco so much. After just one album of Uncle Tupelo-style country-rock, Tweedy made a choice not to stick to a formula. Three very distinct musical statements — A.M., Being There and Summer Teeth — have each redefined Wilco's sound. Now Wilco are putting finishing touches on a new album, tentatively titled either Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or Here Comes Everyone, according to reporter Chris Nelson. Nelson spoke with Tweedy in Seattle on March 4, before the artist's solo gig at the Crocodile Café, and says the new album, which is due for release in either mid/late July or early August, will again take Wilco in new directions. Among the songs Tweedy played for Nelson were not-yet-finished versions of "Ashes of an American Flag," which Nelson described in a SonicNet news story as including "a sampled choir singing Stravinsky," and "Heavy Metal Drummer," which utilizes a "computer-generated dance beat" and features "a harpsichord dancing behind the chorus." In that song Tweedy reminisces "about cover bands and losing girlfriends," writes Nelson, adding that Tweedy says the song is not representative of the new album. "'Heavy Metal Drummer' is kind of an anomaly on the record, as far as the linear-ness to it, the song-ness of it," Tweedy says. "It has a very distinct song shape that a lot of the other material on the record doesn't have, lyrically or musically." All of which is good news for those of us who appreciate an artist willing to try something new.

Datastream: David Byrne's first new album in over three years, Look Into The Eyeball, will be released on May 8 on Luaka Bob/Virgin. The album features twelve new Byrne compositions, including "The Accident," "Like Humans Do" and "Neighborhood," which Virgin's PR department describes as "Philly soul-inspired," and which features input from Gamble-Huff writer/arranger Tom Bell. There's also a song that Byrne sings in Spanish called "Desconocido Soy." This will be Byrne's first album to be released through Virgin. "I had been wondering if there might be a way to include the warm, lyrical, beautiful, emotional sounds and associations of strings and orchestral parts with groove music and beats for the body," Byrne said in a statement. "I want to move people to dance and cry at the same time."

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Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

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