Dan Wilson’s “Free Life”

Sadly, Dan Wilson is nearly singularly associated by the masses with “Closing Time,” the 1998 hit single from Semisonic’s platinum-selling Feeling Strangely Fine. That’s a shame. While I think it’s a great pop single (for which many evenings in Champaign-Urbana came to a close), it’s not a great representation of his body of work and it’s really not an accurate reflection of his long career in the Minneapolis music scene. For example, few would guess that AMG’s entry for him would begin, “Dan Wilson has been a cult hero of American smart pop music since the late 1980s as guitarist with the bands Trip Shakespeare and Semisonic, and in the 21st century he’s quietly embarked on a solo career.” A one-time graduate student in art at Harvard (whose younger brother and often contributor Matt was an English major), it’s not surprising that Wilson is often called literate in his songwriting. He’s an intelligent guy. Furthermore, is the fact that he co-wrote six of the songs on the Dixie Chicks’ Grammy-winning Album of the Year, Taking the Long Way, including the Single of the Year “Not Ready to Make Nice.” Wilson has also produced countless acts and written for other performers, including Jewel and Jason Mraz. From “cult hero” to Grammy-winning songwriter. Talk about Across the Universe.

Wilson’s new album, Free Life, is refreshing and introspective, as Rick Rubin writes in the liner notes, “I would suggest listening to this when you have a quiet moment with no distractions and can let the music take you away.” However, it still suffers at times from Wilson’s classic tendency to oversensualize (not sure that’s a word, but it should be). Today, I had a service tech at my place doing maintenance on my gas furnace, and suddenly Wilson croons from my stereo in the other room, “You’ve got all the sugar you’ll ever need/You’re gonna give some of your sugar to me.” Eeek. Is that a friendly request or a demand? Admittedly, Wilson has toned down such tendencies since the disappointing follow-up to FSF, All About Chemistry, which I thought was all about uncomfortableness (again, maybe not a word). Criticisms aside, I firmly believe Wilson is one of the best pop songwriters of his generation, and his work with the Dixie Chicks is a confirmation of that, for those that haven’t listened to the phenomenal albums of Seminsonic and Trip Shakespeare, although the later often featured the similarly talented writing of his brother, Matt.

In somewhat unusual MiS fashion, I’m going to post a Trip Shakespeare song and the title track from “Free Life.” I love Trip Shakespeare, and while I find Wilson’s new solo album to be consistently strong, and it’s great he’s making his own music again, there’s just something about the fun and quirkiness of Trip Shakespeare I still miss. With the snow that has blanketed much of the Midwest and East the past several days, I think “Snow Days” is an apt choice, and highlights the pop masterpieces of TP. Enjoy.

Trip Shakesspeare, “Snow Days,” from Across the Universe (music/lyrics by Matt Wilson)

“Free Life,” the title track from Dan Wilson’s new solo album.


3 Responses to “Dan Wilson’s “Free Life””

  1. December 6, 2007 at 8:55 pm

    I’m intrigued. Up those tracks!

    Did your gas furnace get fixed?

  2. December 11, 2007 at 8:25 pm

    He has such a pure voice. I love the keys and feeling of solitude in this song (perhaps intentional in having a literal free life). Great song!

  3. 3 Carol
    January 29, 2008 at 8:41 pm

    I found it so difficult to put into “just” words how Dan Wilsons album Free Life has effected me ,it is absolutly beautiful music.

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