Parador Label: Not Lame/Ella
When referring to an artist as being “pop,” you’re on a slippery slope, and it’s one that goes something like this:
“Pop” is short for popular, and while everyone wants to be popular, the problem is that once you are popular, you’re right around the corner from being mainstream…and nobody wants to be mainstream, because then, all of a sudden, everything you do has to be more successful than what’s preceded it, and the first time it isn’t, bam, you’re labeled a has-been, your label stops promoting your album, your contract isn’t renewed, and suddenly you’re telling interviewers that you’re “going indie” for your next release, even though the reality is that you didn’t actually have any choice in the matter, and you’re steadfastly avoiding mention that you’ve had to go back to your job at the bookstore because the music isn’t paying the bills anymore.
You think I’m overreacting? Man, I wish I was. And, okay, perhaps I am just a tad. But just in case, let’s call Willie Wisely – oh, right, sorry, he just goes by Wisely now – an adult alternative artist who knows his way around a hook. It’s just safer that way.
Wisely has been puttering around the fringes of the Minneapolis music scene since the ‘80s, but it wasn’t until 1994 that he released his first solo album, Parlez-Vous Francais?, on Pravda Records. From there, he bounced to Twin/Tone for 1996’s She, then to October for 1997’s Turbosherbet. It wasn’t until musician/producer Linus of Hollywood stepped in, sang Wisely’s praises, and put his money where his mouth was in 2003 by releasing a compilation of some of Wisely’s best work – Go! – on the Franklin Castle label.
Now, Wisely’s back with his first proper album in almost a decade, and, once more, Linus of Hollywood has come through, serving as producer for over 90% of Parador. Given that Linus and Wisely are probably equally talented when it comes to writing a catchy chorus, you can imagine that the combination has resulted in some of the catchiest tunes in recent memory. Helping to flesh them out are guest appearances from guitar god Paul Gilbert, former that dog frontwoman Anna Waronker, and Wondermints wunderkind Probyn Gregory on French horn. (The latter does particularly nice work on “Erase Me.”)
Wisely’s musical reference points used to be more obvious – Paul McCartney and Squeeze were always crucial touchstones – but, while they’re still there on occasion (Macca’s influence is definitely felt on “Through Any Window” – but, now, his sound is more stylistically expansive. Opener “This Is Everything” is sufficiently dramatic as to warrant its all-encompassing title, with a sweeping chorus. “Joke,” “Let Me Run Wild,” and “Stayin’ Home Again” are particularly propulsive numbers, but the tone of much of the album is decidedly melancholy. Wisely’s most significant achievement on Parador is that it manages to hint at sadness without dragging things down musically.
Fans of artists like Jon Brion and the Pernice Brothers should pay a visit to Parador. Just try to avoid the instinct to call it power pop; Wisely deserves better than that, and so does his album.