“Stevie Nicks has never sounded more grounded or passionate than on Trouble in Shangri-La, which is her best and most varied work as a solo artist.” –Us Weekly
Trouble in Shangri-La is Stevie Nicks’ sixth full-length solo recording, a concept album based on the highs and lows of life. Stevie has explained it as the difficulty of maintaining “Shangri-La” or staying at the top of one’s career.
Stevie worked sporadically on the record for seven years. Still reeling in her disappointment with the uneven Street Angel (1994) and recovering from an addiction to prescription medication, Stevie had dinner with good friend Tom Petty at the Ritz-Carlton in Phoenix on April 24, 1994 to discuss the possibility of him writing a song for the new album. Instead of agreeing to write the song, Petty encouraged Stevie to overcome her personal setbacks and start writing her own songs again.
After Petty’s pep talk, Stevie wrote “Love Is,” her first song in several months. She wrote the title track the following year toward the end of the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Although she did not specifically write about Simpson or the trial, Stevie identified with the challenges of sustaining a relationship in the public eye. “Trouble in Shangri-La” and “Love Is” served as the “bookends” to Stevie’s album concept. During this time, Stevie also wrote “That Made Me Stronger,” a song inspired by her conversation with Petty. (Stevie wrote the related “Hard Advice,” which she later recorded for 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault in 2014.)
The Dance, Enchanted
Stevie put Trouble in Shangri-La on hold for many years because of side projects, namely the reunion of the 1975 lineup of Fleetwood Mac, which lead to the release of The Dance (1997) and subsequent touring with the band. Stevie continued to write songs for Trouble in Shangri-La, including the The-Dance-reunion-inspired “Touched by an Angel,” which was recorded for Trouble in Shangri-La, but used for the Sweet November (2001) motion picture soundtrack instead. The momentum from these activities led Modern Records to release Stevie’ second retrospective release (The Enchanted Works of Stevie Nicks, 1998) and more touring.
After promoting Enchanted, Stevie resumed work on Trouble in Shangri-La, recording demos for “Candlebright” and “Sorcerer” with Sheryl Crow, who became the album’s first producer. But the touring demands of Crow’s own The Globe Sessions (1998) album pulled her away from the project. Crow returned later for a short time to produce additional tracks, but left again to continue promoting The Globe Sessions in Europe, leaving Stevie to find another producer to complete the album. Crow produced five tracks in all.
Searching for producers
At the end of 1999, while vacationing in Hawaii, Stevie heard TLC’s song “Unpretty,” which was produced by R&B producer Dallas Austin. Impressed with Austin’s production work on the song, Stevie asked him to produce tracks for Trouble in Shangri-La. In March 2000, Stevie flew to Atlanta to work with Austin at his recording studio. Although Austin reportedly completed tracks for the album, one possibly being an unreleased alternate version of “Bombay Sapphires,” Stevie was dissatisfied with the end results and decided not to use the tracks.
“The whole album was going a certain way and Dallas had to move on,” Stevie said. “He can’t spend a year doing an album. I came back to L.A. and started to do other songs with Sheryl and I realized the record was going in a completely different direction. The songs didn’t fit. The songs that I did with him were very R&B and then I’m dueting with [country’s] Natalie and all of a sudden this record was not making any sense at all.” (Cohen, Tribune, 2001)
To get the album back on track, Stevie settled with a variety of other producers (David Kahne, Pierre Marchand, Rick Nowels, Jeff Trott, and John Shanks), who were better able to implement Stevie’s concept for the album.
Other unused songs
In addition to the alternate version of “Bombay Sapphires,” Stevie recorded the songs “My Heart” (re-recorded for the 2011 album In Your Dreams), “Touched by an Angel” (included on the Sweet November motion picture soundtrack), and “Thrown Down” (re-recorded for Fleetwood Mac’s 2003 album Say You Will) for Trouble in Shangri-La. “Touched by an Angel” preceded the release of Trouble in Shangri-La by six months, first appearing on the Reprise Records promo CD for the 2000 ACLU Bill of Rights Awards Dinner, which was held on December 14, 2000. The CD, featuring other Reprise artists, also included Lindsey Buckingham’s solo version of “Peacekeeper,” which was later reworked for inclusion on Say You Will.
Trouble in Shangri-La featured guest performances from several different artists, which Stevie has referred to as “perfect accidents.” In addition to Sheryl Crow, who sang backup on “Sorcerer,” “It’s Only Love,” and “Fall From Grace,” Stevie collaborated with Natalie Maines on “Too Far From Texas,” “Lindsey Buckingham (guitars) on “I Miss You,” Macy Gray on “Bombay Sapphires,” and Sarah McLachlan on “Love Is.”
Stevie’s collaboration with McLachlan on “Love Is” resulted from Canadian producer Pierre Marchand’s green card problem, which prevented him from working with Stevie in Los Angeles. To circumvent the problem, Stevie flew to Marchard’s studio in Vancouver, where he invited McLachlan to play piano and sing backup vocals on the song.
Stevie originally wanted Sting to sing the harmony vocals on “Bombay Sapphires” but changed her mind. Her management suggested working with rising star and fellow Reprise label-mate Macy Gray, who had won the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for her hit single “I Try.”
Stevie’s collaboration with Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines came about through Sheryl Crow, who knew and later contacted Maines. With a live band, Stevie and Maines recorded “Too Far from Texas” in two days.
Release and reaction
Reprise Records released CD and cassette versions of Trouble in Shangri-La on Tuesday, May 1, 2001. Aided by an aggressive VH1 marketing strategy (the network named Stevie “Artist of the Month” for May), the album debuted at number five on the Billboard Hot 200 Albums chart. Fueled by a pre-ordering campaign, the album sold an impressive 109,000 copies in the first week. It was Stevie’s highest album debut since The Wild Heart (1983), which also debuted at No. 5 in 1983.
To the promote the album, Reprise Records issued the singles “Every Day” (AC #17), Planets of the Universe” (Dance #1), and “Sorcerer” (AC #21), which all performed well on mainstream radio. During the summer, “Planets of the Universe” reached No. 1 on the Hot Dance/Club Play chart, with the help of remixes done by Tracy Young and Illicit.
In June, the RIAA certified the album gold for the shipment of 500,000 copies to retailers. According to Nielsen SoundScan, Trouble in Shangri-La has sold 638,000 copies in the United States. In December, Stevie earned a Grammy nomination for Best Female Rock Performance for “Planets of the Universe,” her fifth nomination for solo work.
“[Trouble in Shangri-La] is my heart and soul, everything I’ve wanted to say over the last 10 years,” Stevie told Entertainment Weekly in March 2001.
- Trouble in Shangri-La
- Sorcerer (Feat. Sheryl Crow)
- Planets of the Universe
- Every Day
- Too Far From Texas (Feat. Natalie Maines)
- That Made Me Stronger
- It’s Only Love (Feat. Sheryl Crow)
- Love Changes
- I Miss You (Feat. Lindsey Buckingham on guitar)
- Bombay Sapphires (Feat. Macy Gray)
- Fall From Grace
- Love Is (Feat. Sarah McLachlan)