Linkin Park, the Sophomore Challenge
CAN NU METAL’S SUPERSTARS SELL ANOTHER 8 MILLION?
On a recent slushy afternoon in Manhattan, the lone cd copy of the tentatively titled ”Meteora” — Linkin Park’s follow-up to its 8 million-selling debut, ”Hybrid Theory” — is receiving the sort of attention usually accorded a state secret. It is residing in the pocket of one of the band’s security guards…right next to a Taser. ”Inevitably, stuff will leak,” says MC and vocalist Mike Shinoda of the extreme security measures. ”In the meantime, you’re careful.”
In the two-plus years since ”Hybrid”’s release, the Southern California sextet (pictured) has toured just about every spot in the brave nu world and spun off a best-selling remix album, ”Reanimated.” Meteora was recorded in three stints: first on a touring bus, then at Shinoda’s home studio, and finally with producer Don Gilmore. Often, each member laid down his tracks separately. ”For us, jamming and working and writing as a group would just suck,” says Shinoda. ”We’d drive each other nuts.”
The album’s dozen tracks keep with Linkin Park’s rap-rock tradition, but the pounding riffs will have competition. ”Some of the songs are going to feel different,” says Shinoda. ”We never want to use our guitars or choruses as a crutch.” (March)
Country’s Big Baby
BLAKE SHELTON CHAMPIONS HEARTACHE
A lot of country fans are crying for Blake Shelton’s sophomore album, ”The Dreamer.” It’s not the long wait since the Okie’s self-titled debut in 2001 (which helped him nail Country Weekly’s Favorite New Artist) that’s got them distraught. They’re weeping over ”The Baby,” a radio smash released months ahead of the CD. The single, about a youngest child and his dead mama, even makes Shelton wanna bawl — and, admits the 26-year-old, ”I’m one of the coldest people I know.” The country classicist reckons the genre could use more laments. ”It’s great that artists are building careers around the lighter side of life. But that’s leaving a big hole in what else people listen to country for…songs about the heartaches we go through.” (Feb. 4)
Cirque du Celine
DION WILL GO ON IN HER OWN LAS VEGAS COLOSSEUM
In Las Vegas did Celine Dion a stately pleasure dome decree. Furthermore, Dion decreed that the pleasure dome offer her adequate humidity, and excellent acoustics, and seats not far from the stage. And lo: So it was done. On March 25, 4,149 people will file into the Caesars Colosseum — which may well be the first auditorium ever custom-built for one entertainer — to behold the results.
The venue, which was constructed for a reported $95 million, will be the home for Dion’s three-year stand in Las Vegas. When Dion sat down with Caesars Palace and Sceno Plus, the Montreal firm that designed the theater, she had a few simple requirements. One was that the theater feel intimate, because she’d grown weary of trying to project to the back rows of 70,000-seat arenas. ”I don’t feel like saying ‘How are you doing tonight-ight-ight-ight?”’ she says, mimicking a massive stadium’s reverb. Sceno Plus complied, building an arena with a semicircle of seats where the maximum distance from stage to seat is a relatively small 120 feet.
Dion also wanted a sound system emphasizing intimacy; the result is a theater in which audience members — near, far, wherever they are — will be able to easily ascertain that her heart will go on. ”I want it to feel like we’re sharing a moment, and we’re at home,” says Dion.
Granted, it’s the sort of home in which an entire orchestra flies around on wires. Dion hired Cirque du Soleil impresario Franco Dragone to direct her show, and early signs indicate that it will bear some of his trademark flourishes: In addition to the flying orchestra, the theater will be home to a 120-foot-wide LED screen, which will supply backdrops for Dion’s numbers, and she’ll be accompanied by 70 musicians and entertainers. ”It’s not a concert,” Dion says. ”It’s theater.” The showy stage effects may help non-Dion diehards justify the ticket prices, which range from $87.50 to a $200 ”VIP package” — a new high for Vegas — for the five-night-a-week, 90-minute extravaganza. (Dion is reportedly netting $100 million from the venture.)
Not all of the theater’s high-tech gimmickry will be visible to the audience. The stage will also feature a ”humidity bubble” designed to protect Dion’s voice from the dry desert air. ”It’s an invisible bubble,” says Sceno Plus’ marketing director, dashing hopes that Dion might be performing in a giant hamster exercise ball. Dion sees the system — which directs a steady stream of humidified air across the stage — as a selling point for the theater’s future: ”After [I leave], everyone will want to work in this place.”
Actually, now that she mentions it: What will become of the theater once Dion leaves? Even its designers admit that the Colosseum has limitations: Because of its circular shape, it has almost no storage for sets and backdrops. Memo to Caesars: When it comes to filling a coliseum, man-eating lions have a proven track record.
Details on Beyonce’s debut solo disc — ”Dangerously in Love,” due April 1, will feature new producers alongside established knob-twiddlers Missy Elliott and the Neptunes
Destiny’s Child ringleader Beyoncé Knowles isn’t planning to play it safe on her debut solo album, ”Dangerously in Love” (out April 1). The singer has been interviewing unknown producers who she feels can bring some sonic freshness to the table. ”I’m trying to find a new sound,” says Beyoncé. ”I want to find [producers] with new ideas, and there are a lot of young guys and gals out there who are hungry, just like She’kspere and Rodney Jerkins when we first started working with them.”
Not that she’s totally freezing out established talent. ”I did one song with Missy Elliott called ‘Signs,’ which is about star signs,” says Beyoncé (a Virgo). ”I’ve also got a song I did with the Neptunes called ‘My First Time,’ and the production is incredible, a combination of live instruments and hard hip-hop.” Another song she plans to include on the album is ”Daddy,” which gives props to ”all the good fathers out there. There are a lot of positive songs about mothers, but very few about fathers.” Father’s Day shoppers, you have a date with Destiny.
Sing a Simple Song
THE JAYHAWKS STRIP DOWN
Fans disappointed by the high-gloss sunniness of 2000’s ”Smile” should be thrilled by the Minneapolis band’s contemplative seventh album, ”Rainy Day Music.” Produced by Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams’ ”Gold”), it’s a stripped-down, rootsy affair, full of the sort of overcast songs implied by the title. Most of the CD was recorded live in the studio with few overdubs. ”There was not a computer involved in the project until the mastering. Basically, the lead vocals, acoustic guitar, bass, and drums were all live on all the songs,” says frontman Gary Louris. ”That was very important for me.” The studio itself — L.A.’s historic Sunset Sound, where Buffalo Springfield, Joni Mitchell, and many others recorded — also contributed to the vibe. ”I like having history,” says Louris. ”There’s a reason certain studios have good music come out of them and others don’t.” (April 1)
Lucinda Williams Cranks It Up
THE SINGER-SONGWRITER GOES FOR BIG TEARS AND A BIGGER SOUND
Lucinda Williams’ last album, 2001’s ”Essence,” was an overwhelming critical and fan favorite, topping 10-best lists, winning a Grammy, and finding a tender spot in untold hearts with its raw emotionalism. Press Williams’ devoted partisans for any problems they had with the album, and they might begrudgingly admit to one: Great as ”Essence” was…it didn’t really rock.
She heard some of that talk. ”People need to get used to not always having to rock out,” Williams says. ”Nick Drake doesn’t exactly rock, but he made beautiful records. But I also understand what they mean.”
Excessive quietude isn’t a problem on Williams’ next effort, ”World Without Tears.” Forsaking studio musicians for the first time, Williams and her road band essentially recorded the album live. ”I feel really confident about this record,” she says, ”that nobody’s gonna be going ‘I wish this sounded more like [1998’s classic] ‘Car Wheels [on a Gravel Road]” or that kind of thing. They’re gonna go, ‘Wow, she can rock!’ Yeah…hello!”
Not that volume necessarily portends a more upbeat experience. It’s hard to say whether ”Tears” derives more intensity from its big sound or sometimes joltingly direct lyrics (”Lean over the toilet bowl and throw up my confession/Cleanse my soul of this sin obsession…”). These songs are more universal, says Williams, though she also believes that ultimately ”everybody responds most to the basic heartbreak song.”
Musical binging and purging doesn’t get much better. ”It felt good to get that stuff out of [my] system,” Williams, 51, allows. ”Even more so now, there’s the ‘What do I have to lose?’ kind of thing…. Like when Dylan was singing that song ‘I’m sick of love….’ To hear him say that, it makes total sense. Whereas if it came from a twentysomething, you’d go, ‘Oh yeah, right. What can you possibly teach me about love?’ I’ve been around long enough now, and I know some things.” Yeah…hello! (April 8)
BREAKOUT: Lizzie West
A VISIONARY TROUBADOUR FOLLOWING HER OWN YELLOW BRICK ROAD
Let’s hear it for late bloomers. Singer-songwriter Lizzie West didn’t pick up a guitar until she was 23, but she’s made remarkably rapid progress since then. In the past five years, the 28-year-old New Yorker made the leap from busking in the subway to scoring a deal with Warner Bros., which will release her debut album, ”Holy Road…Freedom Songs.” ”I think I got from the subway to here by pursuing my vision honestly, without any pause or fear,” says West, a New Age kind of gal. You can get a first taste of her wonderfully plangent, lyrical songwriting (think the second coming of Natalie Merchant) on her four-song EP ”Lizzie West” (listen for her song ”Chariots Rise” in the feature film ”Secretary”). ”It took a long time to give myself permission to be who I wanted to be,” says West. ”But I’m on my way.” We bet plenty of folks will follow. (April)
How OutKast plan to heal the world with new discs. The Atlanta duo’s double-disc project — one CD featuring Big Boi-style music, the other with Dre’s flavor — will drop in May
A lot of people will tell you the last great hip-hop album was OutKast’s eclectic supersonic explosion ”Stankonia.” Well, get ready for the next great hip-hop album, and naturally, it’s from the same duo: a two-CD set (due in May), with one disc leaning toward Big Boi’s kinetic rhymes and R&B beats (think ”So Fresh, So Clean”), the other tilting in the direction of Dre’s funked-out freak show (”B.O.B.”). ”It’s our way of telling two perspectives of the story,” says Big Boi. ”When you got this much creative juice flowing, the pot’s gonna overflow, so you have to get another pot.”
Die-hard fans will argue that ”Stankonia” was actually OutKast’s third or fourth masterpiece, after 1996’s ”ATLiens” and 1998’s ”Aquemini.” But only ”Stankonia” sold 3 million copies and brought the duo two Grammys — though, as Big Boi points out, their music has changed as times have changed: ”The records we’re making now sound nothing like ”Stankonia.” These days, everything’s f—ed up — the economy, the White House, the war. Folks like the Grateful Dead and Curtis Mayfield brought people through tough times. Right now, people are not making music to bring the people through. We will.”
BREAKOUT Jack Johnson
THE SOFT-ROCKIN’ HAWAIIAN IS NO FLAKE, BUT THE WAVE COMES FIRST
For a third-choice career, ”rock star” ain’t half bad. Just ask Jack Johnson. The native Hawaiian first garnered attention as a professional surfer, sponsored by Quiksilver. After attending film school at the University of California at Santa Barbara, he tried his hand directing surf films, including one, ”The September Sessions,” which won an award at an ESPN film festival. Then last year, the music hobbyist recorded an album built around his acoustic guitar and lazy-blues vocals: ”Brushfire Fairytales” has since sold more than a million copies, driven, in part, by his laid-back ode to slacker love, ”Flake.”
”I made the first record expecting a few surfers that buy my movies to get the music, too,” says Johnson, 27. ”Then it just kept selling and we were like, whoa, who’s buying it now?” Johnson recorded ”Fairytales” during one cold week in L.A. last winter, saving money on the rented studio by working dawn till dusk, ordering in food, and cutting out all other activities — even surfing. Not this time. For his still-untitled follow-up, Johnson and his bandmates — Merlo Podlewski on bass and Adam Topol on drums — retreated to Johnson’s garage in Hawaii. ”We’d wake up, go for a surf, hang out, then get into the studio around noon,” he says.
With a pretty face, irresistible soul-blues stylings, and celeb fans like Heath Ledger touting his tunes, Johnson is poised to ride a pretty big wave — which is cool, so long as he can bail at will. ”I warned the label that there’s gonna be a time when everything’s in place to take it to the next level and I’m gonna go, ‘I think this is the perfect time to go on a surfing trip.”’ (May)
THERAPY HELPS A KINDER, GENTLER METALLICA ROCK LOUDER AND HARDER
What’s been the biggest change in Metallica while recording their first album of original material since 1997’s triple-platinum ”Re-Load”? ”There are group hugs every f—ing day,” offers drummer Lars Ulrich. ”We’re making up for 19 years of no physical contact.” Indeed, now might be the time to squeeze in a little love: One of rock’s heaviest bands is emerging from a particularly brutal period during which one member quit (bassist Jason Newsted, citing ”personal reasons and the physical damage I have done to myself over the years”) and another checked into rehab (lead singer-guitarist James Hetfield, citing ”a lot of denial”).
Calling the emerging music ”unadulterated” and ”more aggro,” the Bay Area bashers describe a new conviviality in the studio. (Metallica’s producer, Bob Rock, is playing bass on the still-untitled CD; a string slinger will be hired in time to tour later this year.) ”Before, we were fairly territorial: ‘Okay, Lars is doing drums stuff — I don’t have to be in the studio,”’ says Hetfield. ”We felt the vibe was stale and we were tired of it…. For lyric writing, overdubs, vocals and everything, we’re hanging out, and it’s cool.” The band has even enlisted the aid of a ”performance coach” to keep the harmony flowing. ”It’s not like [how] the Beatles went to India and stuff,” insists Ulrich. It’s ”a guy that can help us be the best we can be, post-tough times.” (June)
BREAKOUT: The Shins
YOU’VE HEARD OF THE SHINS, SO WHY DON’T YOU KNOW THEM?
The Shins’ acclaimed 2001 debut, ”Oh, Inverted World,” may not sound familiar, but if you own a TV, many of its dreamy pop-rock tunes will. Thanks to some indie-savvy soundtrack supervisors, the Albuquerque, N.M., foursome’s songs have been featured on ”The Sopranos,” ”Scrubs,” and ”Gilmore Girls” — not to mention ads for McDonald’s and the Gap. Such mainstream visibility hasn’t hurt their strong lo-fi following, and the extra bucks seem to have helped around the studio: ”[We’ve] got better equipment now,” notes singer-songwriter James Mercer. ”Sonically, the next album is going to be better.” (TBA)