Chicks’ Big Gamble
Country fans haven’t forgiven the Dixie Chicks for bashing Bush — but the trio isn’t shutting up
It’s been three years since Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines told a London audience, ”Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas” — a statement that generated death threats and got the trio all but banned from country radio. Now the Chicks are back with a new disc, the Rick Rubin-produced Taking the Long Way, and country radio’s response to the album’s first single, ”Not Ready to Make Nice,” has been chilly — if not downright dismissive.
”There are a number of country radio stations that won’t even accept our money for paid advertising,” says AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips, who is promoting the group’s Accidents and Accusations Tour (which kicks off in Detroit on July 21st). ”I’ve never experienced that before.” The station that staged a Dixie Chicks CD-crushing party after Maines’ comments, KRMD in Shreveport, Louisiana, gave ”Not Ready” a few halfhearted spins before abandoning it altogether. ”We’ve done some research and Internet polls to see if the public was ready to forgive — and they’re not,” says KRMD program director Les Acre. ”When they’re ready, we’ll be ready.”
It’s not surprising that the trio’s critics haven’t embraced ”Not Ready,” which includes lyrics that address the 2003 incident: ”How in the world can the words that I said/Send somebody so over the edge/That they’d write me a letter/Sayin’ that I better shut up and sing/Or my life will be over?” The decision to release ”Not Ready” is the most recent of several bold moves that began with the selection of Red Hot Chili Peppers producer Rubin and rock songwriters Linda Perry (who penned the pop ballad ”Voice Inside My Head”) and the Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell (the bluesy roadhouse rocker ”Lubbock or Leave It”). ”I don’t know where this album falls genre-wise — it falls pretty much across all genres,” says the Chicks’ manager, Simon Renshaw. ”It’s a huge artistic step forward — a different sound, a different quality.”
First-week sales predictions for Taking the Long Way were topping out at around 400,000 units at press time — just over half of what the Chicks’ last album, 2002’s Home, sold in its first week — which would make it the fifth-biggest debut of 2006. Many in the music industry believe the Chicks are on the road to gaining a new audience. Both CMT and VH1 are playing the video for ”Not Ready” (a witch-hunt-themed clip directed by No Doubt video director Sophie Muller). Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Amazon.com predict the album will be a major seller.
”[This album] will appeal to a wider fan base,” says Best Buy music buyer James Hire. ”It sounds very adult-contemporary. Their broad appeal — especially with the new sound on this album — should help it succeed.” And tour promoter Phillips says that radio stations boycotting the Chicks’ music won’t ruin the chances of a blockbuster outing. ”The Chicks have transcended a reliance on radio — they don’t need a hit single to sell records or tickets,” he says. ”People love them, and they’re great live. My gut tells me the tour is gonna do great.”
Chicks’ Big Gamble