City Paper is not for tourists
In a move that should inspire worship throughout Alternative Nation, Wesley Willis has come up with a new scam for getting on the guest list: Let him in and he’ll probably write a song about the band. His reputed 15 independently issued albums are apparently filled with paeans to various acts that have come through the Chicagoland territory this certified schizophrenic calls home. Fabian Road Warrior, Willis’ major-label debut, breaks little new ground; over its two dozen tracks, the singer praises Alanis Morissette (“you can really whip a horse’s ass”), Silverchair (“whipped a fox’s ass with a belt”), and Tripping Daisy (“whipped a werewolf’s ass”), among others. These big-hearted rants all occur over the same dinky-sounding electronic-keyboard melody in different tempos and keys—not that this matters to the artist, who declaims and wails in a range limited enough to make Mark E. Smith (or, more to the point, Daniel Johnston) sound like Tony Bennett. Rock weighs heavily on Willis’ overtaxed mind, but he also takes on rush-hour traffic (“Slow Cars Fast Cars”) and, in “It’s Against the Law,” sundry bad behaviors: “Don’t kill people you don’t know! Don’t shoot them with guns! Don’t rob gas stations and banks! Don’t rob liquor stores elsewhere!” Not as highly evolved a challenge to the gangsta ethos as that of the Fugees, perhaps, but impressive in its fashion. Seriously, a little of this goes a very long way, and the thought that this guy has become an object of the hype machine is brainbending, if not a little worrisome. In the current modern-rock universe, though, Willis is one act who’s not about to be tagged a Cobain clone.