embrace all of their different musical personas on Wilco (The Album)
, a record that may be a notch below the band’s most adventurous and accomplished but is nevertheless a strong collection. As per norm, frontman Jeff Tweedy largely explores romantic anxiety on Wilco (The Album)
, taking a break for a few lighter moments that keep the record from sounding unremittingly depressive. The experimental Wilco of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
takes a backseat on Wilco (The Album)
, but this relatively straightforward album still contains its fair share of bold, satisfying moments.
More 'Sky Blue Sky' Than 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot'
Wilco entered the 21st century as a respected rock band who had dabbled in country (A.M.
), classic rock (Being There
), folk (Mermaid Avenue
) and Beach Boys
-style pop (Summerteeth
). But with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
and A Ghost Is Born
, Wilco started using the studio itself as an instrument, playing with feedback, sound bites and unusual arrangements to push their songs in new directions. Sky Blue Sky
, their most recent work, represented a return to ‘70s rock, and its gently reflective style drew criticism in some circles – Tweedy was accused of becoming a maker of dull “dad rock,” a derogatory term for mature rock music that lacks aggression. It’s impossible to know if Wilco (The Album)
was written in response to that criticism or not, but this new record is certainly closer in style to Sky Blue Sky
than it is to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
. This might mean that those who hated Wilco’s last album won’t take a shine to this one, but Wilco (The Album)
confidently reveals Tweedy’s ability to follow his muse across different genres with obvious skill.
A Bit of Lightheartedness Before the Anxiety Kicks In
Wilco (The Album) kicks off with “Wilco (The Song),” an amusing, breezy lark in which Tweedy vows that his band will be there for you, the listener. Tweedy can be known for his somber songs, so the album opener gets things rolling on a light note. That frivolity doesn’t last long, though – repeatedly, Wilco (The Album) confronts uncertainty, whether it’s the marriage anxiety of “One Wing” or the lament for bygone contentment in “Country Disappeared.” As he did on Sky Blue Sky, Tweedy has removed much of the sonic murk that distinguished his band’s recent albums, choosing instead to sing directly and candidly about his worries. But it’s not as if he’s writing stripped-down folk songs – rather, the layered arrangements organically build tension, such as on the dynamic five-and-a-half-minute guitar-and-keyboard jam “Bull Black Nova,” which is highlighted by guitarist Nels Cline’s spiraling, frenetic solo.
Shifting Into a More Mature Phase, With Jokes
Those who accused Tweedy of going all “dad rock” with Sky Blue Sky
might be the ones Tweedy’s addressing on one particular Wilco (The Album)
track, “You Never Know.” The song, which borrows the sunny melody of George Harrison
’s ‘70s hit “My Sweet Lord,” playfully chides younger people for “acting like children” and reminds them “every generation thinks it’s the end of the world.” With his 42nd birthday just around the corner, Tweedy doesn’t try to be a spokesman on “You Never Know,” but it’s a rare moment where he acknowledges both his age and his unique perspective on the rock landscape. And the fact that the song is one of the album’s most upbeat and catchy suggests that rather than worrying about turning into an old fuddy-duddy, he’s enjoying his 40s, which are usually a time when rock songwriters often start to lose their creative spark. That’s not the case with Tweedy – his music may be more laidback now, but it has lost none of its potency.
Echoes of the Past
If one can find fault with Wilco (The Album)
, it’s simply to note that while many of the songs are superb, some do recall earlier highlights in the band’s career – or in others’. “Everlasting Everything” starts off as an echo of the Beatles
’ “A Day in the Life” and goes on to mirror the mortality theme of Sky Blue Sky
’s “On and On and On.” The nervous strum of “Solitaire” feels inspired by Nick Drake’s psychedelic folk-rock of the 1970s, while the twilight beauty of the song’s pedal steel guitar brings to mind the band’s Being There
. These are minor quibbles, but that air of familiarity keeps Wilco (The Album)
from being as memorable as it could have been. If this album is ultimately a bit of a holding action for the band, though, its high level of craft makes it a great place to hang out.
'Wilco (The Album)' – Best Tracks:
“Wilco (The Song)” (Purchase/Download
“Country Disappeared” (Purchase/Download
“You Never Know” (Purchase/Download
“Bull Black Nova” (Purchase/Download
“One Wing” (Purchase/Download
Release date – June 30, 2009