The latest email newsletter from Wilco has had me a bit perplexed ever since it hit my inbox.
A few lines in we’re told we can expect a “slightly serious tone (in) this note”. Okay. I put down the cornflakes. These guys now had my attention.
Reading on they invite us to listen to a stream of their new album ‘Sky Blue Sky’ and then to “take a moment to reflect” on the “dynamic” between themselves and their fans. There follows a riff about how some fans have lamented the “somewhat sad state of the music business” and have been asking Wilco to “consider changing the way (they) do things” and the band tell us they have refused to do so.
With that out of the way they then ask us to “go out next week and do the right thing for Wilco… and buy the record”.
I don’t know about you but I simply don’t know why a band as well established as Wilco with a solid, passionate - often obsessive - fan base thought it necessary to basically beg their fans to go out and buy their latest release. It’s true that some reviews of advance copies have varied from less than gushing to 'good but not their finest hour' but that’s not something likely to scare off your typical Wilco nut, someone who will be fully aware of the many layers a Wilco record typically has that need repeated listens to reveal.
The most likely explanation here is that Wilco fear MP3s of the album floating about the place will impact the sales. But it is that very scenario that really throws me. Hear me out.
A few years back Wilco put free downloads of the complete Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album on their website while they sorted out which label was going to release it. Tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of fans downloaded the album and – when it was finally released - many of us (myself included) went out and actually bought the album. And before you could say “I am trying to break the bank” it was the biggest selling album of Wilco’s career.
Roll on 2007 and Wilco seem to have done a complete U-turn and are - if we read between the lines of this begging letter - now in fear of MP3s. What’s going on? Why the shift? Maybe pressure from the record company (the quite excellent, often adventurous and in-for-the-longhaul Nonesuch label) to massage their fans into action in this way? Personally, I doubt it (and if there was such pressure Wilco surely would have resisted, if you think back to the ‘Our way or the highway’ attitude they took with their former record label when they asked for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to be re-recorded).
So all things considered, I for one am perplexed as to why they thought they needed to do this. If any one has insights into or ideas on this do please throw them into the comments below.
2003 - Witnness 2003, a comprehensive review by Brian Kelly of the 2 days of what transpired to be the last ever Witnness festival (in 2004 it was rebranded as Oxegen when Heineken stepped into the sponsor shoes).