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POP MUSIC | Pop Eye

Any Bidders for Pumpkins or Osborne?

Labels are cautious about signing the acts without a recent smash album.

March 26, 2000|STEVE HOCHMAN

Two acts with smash albums in recent years are on the market for new deals: the Smashing Pumpkins, whose contract with Virgin Records expired with the release of its new "Machina/the machines of God," and Joan Osborne, who has parted ways with Island/Def Jam over disagreements concerning the follow-up to her 2-million-selling 1995 album, "Relish."

Will there be a massive bidding war for either?

Not necessarily.

In talks with more than a half-dozen label representatives, there was a surprising degree of caution when assessing the level of interest in the two acts.

With the Pumpkins, the concern in some quarters is only partly due to the band's sales being softer than they were a few years ago. But that is a part of it. The group's 1995 "Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness" sold 4.4 million, but 1998's "Adore" barely broke the million mark in the U.S. The jury's still out on the new album, which dropped out of the national Top 10 after one week.

The issue on many execs' minds is more a matter of perceptions about head Pumpkin Billy Corgan being "difficult." Label officials note that he has fired two managers in the past year.

Most speculation regarding the Pumpkins' future label starts with its old home, since Virgin will retain the band's catalog. But the issue is complicated by the pending merger of Virgin's parent, EMI Music, with Warner Bros., and Corgan has spoken publicly about being happy to be "free" from the old contract with Virgin.

One A&R exec, though, says that the Pumpkins' status will appeal to many labels looking for a strong, proven act and that the Pumpkins could certainly heighten interest if its upcoming U.S. tour pushes "Machina" back up the charts.

Osborne is even more of a question given the time lapse since her breakthrough album, which included the smash single "One of Us." But the pop landscape has changed dramatically in the meantime. Other female artists, including Alanis Morissette and Paula Cole, have struggled to recapture their mid-'90s success.

Osborne's new album, produced by Mitchell Froom (Los Lobos, Bonnie Raitt), is complete, and some who have heard it are impressed with the writing, production and especially Osborne's vocals on a range of songs likely to draw comparisons to Raitt.

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FREE AGENTS, ROUND II: Another artist of lesser sales but high regard is also potentially going to be shopping for a new label. Beth Orton, the British singer known for an at-times arresting combination of folk and techno, is no longer on Arista Records in the U.S. after the termination of that label's deal with U.K. label Deconstruction.

Her manager, Geoff Travis, states that Orton remains under contract to BMG--parent of both Arista's and Deconstruction--for one more album and that they are exploring options for U.S. release within the BMG family, as well as looking at potential options for a full new deal.

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INDIGENOUS HONORS: The Grammy Awards--given by the U.S.-based music world--honor musical forms that originated in Africa, Latin America, Europe and other parts of the world. There's even an award for polka, a style brought here by German immigrants.

But what about music that was wholly created on North American soil?

That's what the folks at the Native American Music Assn. & Awards organization are asking. They've submitted an official proposal to the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences to institute a new Grammy category for best Native American album starting next year.

Rejected by NARAS in 1996, New York-based NAMAA two years ago started its own awards show to honor artists in the steadily growing field, ranging from traditional ceremonial performances to New Age soundscapes to rock and rap styles of young Native Americans. That got the attention of NARAS, says organization president Ellen Bello. NARAS asked her to submit a new proposal after the 1999 NAMAA presentation last November in Albuquerque.

"Native American album releases have been steadily increasing, both on major labels and a number of independents," Bello says. "Billboard has published Native American music supplements, and many of the major record store chains now have Native American music sections."

NARAS' vice president of awards, Diane Theriot, says she cannot discuss proposals for new awards that are under consideration, but says that around 30 such submissions will be reviewed by the academy's awards and nominations committee in April, with the board of trustees to vote on recommended by the committee in May.

"They [NAMAA] did send in an excellent proposal," she says. "They put a lot of work into it."

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WOULDN'T IT BE NICE?: Beach Boys fans who got their wish with Brian Wilson's return to the concert stage for his first solo tour last year will now get another one granted. Wilson will go on the road this summer, but this time he and his band will hook up with symphony orchestras for shows that will include complete performances of the 1996 classic "Pet Sounds."

Several songs from the album became Beach Boys live staples, including "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "Sloop John B," but the entire album was too musically elaborate to perform out of the studio, and too moody for the band's concert world of "Fun Fun Fun" and "Good Vibrations."

The tour, starting in late July, will come to the Hollywood Bowl on Sept. 24, where Wilson and band will be joined by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. --S.H.

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