The Coulda-Shoulda-Woulda Files: Semisonic’s “Chemistry” Lesson

Feb 12th, 2007 // 9 Comments

semisonic.jpgTime for another installment of the Coulda-Shoulda-Woulda Files, where we raid our archives in search of a lost gem.

Artist: Semisonic
Album: All About Chemistry, 2001
What happened: If you thought the bespectacled dude standing next to the Dixie Chicks at the Grammys looked familiar, you were right: That was Dan Wilson, a well-known songwriter-for-hire who used to front the Minneapolis pop-rockers Semisonic. And while his group is best remembered for the mid-’90s sing-along “Closing Time,” its best album remains the career-capping, audience-ignored All About Chemistry.
Why it should have been a hit: The opening single, “Chemistry,” is a soft-pop classic; as Entertainment Weekly noted, it predated the Hall & Oates revival a by a good few years. And many of the album’s highlights–including the darkly devotional “She’s Got My Number”–could have been deep-cut FM staples, had anyone at radio (or at the band’s label) paid them any attention.

Semisonic – Chemistry [MP3, link expired]
Semisonic – She’s Got My Number [MP3, link expired]

  1. cassidy2099

    Better than Feeling Strangely Fine? I don’t think so. That “Sunshine and Chocolate” track makes me queasy. “Chemistry” however is one of their best songs. And hey, wasn’t Wilson supposed to have a Rick Rubin produced solo album come out a few years ago?

  2. Mark Graham

    If memory serves, there was a really nice track on that record that they co-wrote w/Carole King. Nice reset.

  3. coolfer

    radio gave it a shot, the label worked it for a brief time, the press was all over the band at the time of release, but the songs just didn’t go anywhere with listeners. the label felt it had more important things to do than pour money into an album that didn’t have many prospects at radio. it wasn’t a band that broke through touring or critical adoration. it was a radio band. when radio dried up, it was time to move on. that’s how it is sometimes. listeners like one song immensely (“closing time” in this case) and don’t have a strong enough bond with the band to care a whole lot for what comes after it. (that’s blue october’s cue to cash it in fast.) it’s the curse of the hit single.

  4. dollywould

    Their first full-length album, Great Divide, was the soundtrack to my sophomore year of college. “Down in Flames” is an amazing song. Good to see Dan still getting work (and props). Thanks for posting this!

  5. On the Spot

    The drummer wrote a book about the rise and fall (slight incline and gentle decline?) of Semisonic.

  6. Chris Molanphy

    Good idea to post this. I myself (a) was stunned to see Wilson up there with the Chicks last night (recognized him because I saw Semisonic open for Sheryl Crow once); and (b) was kinda wondering where he’d been all these years.

    Re: coolfer’s smart comment above – the fate of Semisonic will seem less surprising if you read the fun little book by Semisonic’s drummer, Jacob Slichter: So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star. I plowed through it a couple of years ago, and it’s a succinct, not-too-juicy tell-all about the fucked-up way rock bands were treated by the business in the late ’90s after the alt-boom ended. You could kill a weekend reading this book and then following up with a screening of the movie DIG! to get a sense of How It All Went Wrong.

  7. e

    I loved their pre-”Closing Time” song “Across the Great Divide”, as well as their “FNT” song (which you’ve heard if you’ve seen “10 Things I Hate About You”).

    I lived in Minneapolis when “Chemistry” came out, and it got plenty of airplay up there.

    Dan Wilson also appears in the “Shut Up and Sing” film . . .

  8. DeeJayQueue

    Dan Wilson is a pretty good producer and songwriter, helping out the likes of Mike Doughty produce their albums in his spare time in his home studio in Minn. That’s pretty much where he’s been all this time.

  9. Anonymous

    dude. all about chemistry was totally their worst album. def. give a listen to the great divide or anything on feeling strangely fine except closing time…. and if you REALLY want to dig, check out trip shakespeare, dan’s pre-semisonic band. adorably idiosyncratic.

    i’ll end the fangirl schtick now.

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