Chicks In the Line of Fire

Three years ago they apologized for dissing the President. Now, they're back with a new album - and a retraction of the apology

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When the group gathered in early 2004 to talk about a new album, none of the three sounded nearly that confident. "You could tell this thing had strengthened them personally but shaken them artistically," says producer Rick Rubin, famous for his work with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Beastie Boys and on Johnny Cash's haunting American series. "What turned me on, though, was that even though people were divided over what they said, people cared what they said, and that's a very strong position for an artist to be in. For the first time the girls, these cute little girls, had a platform."

Rubin took on the project with the hope--he's way too Zen to make demands--that for the first time in their careers the Dixie Chicks would write all their songs, by themselves and about themselves. As writers they admit they're prone to laziness, like people at a gym who need a personal trainer to force them to concentrate. Gary Louris of the Jayhawks, blues artist Keb' Mo' and Dan Wilson of Semisonic were brought in to co-write and supply discipline, and the band hunkered down in Los Angeles, where Rubin lives, to begin the long and unglamorous work of crafting songs.

Most of the material that emerged over nearly two years of writing was about marriage and kids and modern life as the Dixie Chicks and lots of other people live it. Oblique references to the controversy made their way into a few songs, so Wilson suggested they write one that addressed the issue head on. "Natalie said, 'Does that mean we'd have to forgive the people that were so evil to us?' And I said, 'Maybe it does,'" Wilson recalls. "And with a little wave of her hand, she said, 'Nooooope.' Then the next morning that phrase 'I'm not ready to make nice' appeared."

The song builds to a massive crescendo under lyrics ("It's too late to make it right/ I probably wouldn't if I could/ 'Cause I'm mad as hell/ Can't bring myself to do what it is you think I should") that are explicitly clear. Those who loathe the Dixie Chicks will never get to the end, while those who love them will listen once, say Yeah! and probably not need to go back. It works better as a referendum than as a pop song, but as Robison says, "We wrote it for ourselves, for therapy. Whether or not other people think it was important enough to say, we think it was." Says CMT's Philips: "I hope the audience lets them get this out of their system, because it would be the musical crime of the century if people don't hear this album all the way through."

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