Wilco (the album) – review

When it comes to writing album reviews, the natural precedent has oftentimes lead a writer to compare the new release to past releases.  In Wilco’s case this is not advised (or at least becomes an unenviable task) as the band has continuously reinvented itself over its 15 year run at alt-country/rock domination.  From one album to another a new Wilco often has emerged with a new lineup and a new sound leaving some fans moaning and other fans glowing.  This is not the case on Wilco (the album) thoughFor the first time in their history Wilco has the same lineup as their previous album and with this the sound hasn’t changed much, instead on the most brilliant tracks the onstage chemistry and precision the current lineup possesses shines bright with accents of Yankee Hotel FoxtrotA Ghost is Born and Sky Blue Sky.

The album starts off very strong.  The opener, “Wilco (the song)”, is a rocking number that sticks with you long after a listen with Tweedy’s lyrics both immediate and personal, “Do you dabble in depression?  Is someone twisting a knife in your back?  Are you being attacked?  Oh this is a fact that you need to know.  Oh.  Oh.  Oh Wilco will love you baby.”  “Deeper Down” is number two, a mellow emotional song with Jeff Tweedy’s voice and a slide guitar leading the way.  It’s a fantastic tune that progresses nicely with interesting verse/chorus changes and great subtle drumming by Glenn Kotche.

“One Wing” is an analogy about breaking up and one of the best rock songs Tweedy has written in years.  Its lyrics are fantastic, “We may as well be made of stone.  We can’t be flown.  One wing will never fly.  Neither yours nor mine.”  But what really shines on this tune is Nels Cline’s guitarwork which is more subdued yet quietly richer than what he displayed on Sky Blue Sky.  This song is absolutely beautiful.

Taking a page from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born, the album’s most experimental track is “Bull Black Nova”.  The song takes off with a piano based rhythm similar (albeit slower) to “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” from 2004’s A Ghost is Born and works into a noisy broken bridge.  The song is about a person running from a bloody murder and the instant paranoia that follows.  Tweedy paints quite the picture with the lyrics, “I wonder if they know, I’m in a bull black Chevy Nova, silhouetted by the setting sun?”  It’s an interesting song to say the least but it doesn’t blend well in the grand scheme of Wilco (the album).

From there the album moves into the first duet ever featured on a Wilco album.  Canadian singer, Feist, lends her pretty voice on track five, “You and I”.  It’s a mellow song of relationships and compromise and sounds like it was born on 70’s AM radio.  Track six is “You Never Know”, the first single released from Wilco (the album).  “You Never Know” sounds like a single as it pushes no boundaries, but with that said it’s a fine song with nice background vocals and a catchy line that repeats over, “I don’t care anymore”.

The album then slows down considerably.  “Country Disappeared” is a melodically gorgeous tune that Tweedy should be very proud of.  But next in line is “Solitaire”, a slow moving track of guilt that is the weakest song on the album.  Song nine is “I’ll Fight” and brings back the rock with a nice keyboard rhythm and a country tinged sound of the slide guitar.  Overall this song doesn’t go very far though with Tweedy’s lyrics repetitive and cliche.

The second half of the album finally comes back around with “Sonny Feeling”.  This is a fun rocking number full of 70’s pop-rock influence and not-so-subtle pokes at today’s subculture.  This should be a very fun live song.  Wilco (the album) ends appropriately with “Everlasting Everything”; a beautifully dark and fearless song about facing death in all of its inevitability.  Tweedy calmly croons, “Oh I know this might sound sad.  But everything goes, both the good and the bad.”  He has that one right.

Wilco (the album) obviously stems from sunnier times for Tweedy & Co. but it doesn’t run far from their previous albums nor the themes of relationships (both the good and the bad) that Jeff Tweedy has often written about.  What struck me most about the album is its mature mellowness that is somehow a long way from being dry.  With exception to “Bull Black Nova”, gone are the screachingly sonic Nels Cline guitar solos that could raise the dead.  Instead Nels is still obviously there, but as an integral part of the band’s overall sound and this pays off greatly.  The result is another terrific effort by one of America’s most consistent rock bands.

Wilco (the album)
1. Wilco (the song)
2. Deeper Down
3. One Wing
4. Bull Black Nova
5. You and I
6. You Never Know
7. Country Disappeared
8. Solitaire
9. I’ll Fight
10. Sonny Feeling
11. Everlasting Everything

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