A day after the riots at Woodstock '99, British anarchist outfit Chumbawamba set out to write a song about the festival's blatant commercialism and the fans "who just weren't having it."
The result was "I'm Not Sorry, I Was Having Fun," from the band's latest album, WYSIWYG, which hits stores Tuesday. It's a song that singer Alice Nutter uses to explain the outlandish collective she helped create more than a decade ago.
"With Chumbawamba, we do things, and people don't think we mean it," Nutter said in her thick accent — a Leeds lilt that a journalist once compared to that of Daphne from the NBC-TV show "Frasier."
As an example, she recalled the time that, during an interview with David Letterman, she told fans to steal the band's 1997 hit record Tubthumper. "People came to us and said, 'You must apologize.' F--- off. Why should I apologize? I meant it. So that's 'I'm Not Sorry, I Was Having Fun.' "
On WYSIWYG, an acronym for "What You See Is What You Get," the eight members of Chumbawamba continue to say exactly what's on their minds, even if it results in commercial disaster.
"I don't think it's as easily digestible as the last one," Nutter said, comparing the new album to Tubthumper and its massive pub anthem "Tubthumping" (RealAudio excerpt). "It's not quite as proper. And with this album, because it isn't a lot of singles, and some of the songs are 30 seconds long, it's not a radio-friendly thing."
'We Wanted To Be Braver'
The 22 tracks on WYSIWYG are a drastic departure from the electro-pop tunes on Tubthumber. In fact, the group scrapped the first 10 songs they wrote for WYSIWYG because they weren't different enough.
"We wanted to be braver," Nutter said. "We wanted to write songs that we felt were daring and that were musically a step up."
Perhaps the most audacious of Chumbawamba's new material is "Passenger List for Doomed Flight #1721," which doesn't appear on the record but caused controversy last month when it was released as the B-side to the album's first single, "She's Got All the Friends."
"Passenger" bids adieu to Hole singer Courtney Love, President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, television character Ally McBeal, U2's Bono, radio host Howard Stern and two of the album's biggest targets, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and media magnate Rupert Murdoch, all of whom are aboard a doomed plane.
"I'm always shocked by what causes controversy," Nutter said. "All you have to do is write a song that's not a love song. People pretend they're absolutely stopped dead by a song that waves bye-bye to Bono. It's just pop music. Just because we got him on a plane that crashes doesn't mean he's going to die.
Nutter is clear about the fact that Chumbawamba is also just having a laugh. "The thing is, we have got a sense of humor," she said. "If you listen to our records, humor is sprinkled all over. People think that if you talk politics you're a complete freak. Actually, it's the opposite. If you went out to dinner with Rupert Murdoch, you'd have indigestion in three minutes."
On "Pass It Along," the band addresses fears of a world in which Microsoft rules, "even if Bill Gates thinks he's a benign dictator," Nutter said.
"You have to find a way to measure people's worth that isn't to do with how much money they've got," she said. "You end up thinking Rupert Murdoch is more important than the people that live next door to you, and that's bullsh--."
Fighting Accusations Of Hypocrisy
After the success of "Tubthumping," Chumbawamba were placed in the sticky situation of possessing wealth but appearing as though they didn't want it. The group chose to combat those notions by raising even more political issues on WYSIWYG than on any of their 12 previous albums.
"People say, 'You can't have money and think that,' " Nutter said. "And we're like, 'Why not?' Why can't you own a house and at the same time say it's ridiculous that so many people are homeless?"
Musically, WYSIWYG is a mish-mash of rock, pop, blues and dance. It was recorded in studios all over England and in the band's hometown of Leeds, using two-dollar microphones, keyboards, hundreds of guitars and a banjo.
"It's like channel surfing. It flips from genre to genre," Nutter said. "You've got a cappella one minute, breakbeat the next."
WYSIWYG is everything but marketable. Several radio programmers refused to comment on the group, which is getting little, if any, airplay with this release.
"The only pressure was to be excellent, and not because the last record sold a lot," Nutter said. "That's the reason you carry on doing it. If we measured record sales, we would have given up 10 years ago."