Wilco (The Album)
First Appeared in The Music Box, January 2010, Volume 17, #1
Written by John Metzger
Wed January 20, 2010, 06:30 AM CST
The conventional wisdom that has come to surround Wilco (The Album) states that the seventh studio set to be ushered into existence by the various configurations of Jeff Tweedy’s outfit is a return of sorts to the past. As an Eagles-like ambience settles onto Country Disappeared and as Big Star-meets-The Beatles accouterments splash across the surface of You Never Know, the truth that lurks within this notion becomes clearly defined. Like the material on Sky Blue Sky, the arrangements employed by Wilco are designed to bolster the band’s melodies rather than obscure them. Yet, anyone who approaches Wilco (The Album) believing that it will be akin to the roots-rock of Being There, the flashy pop of summerteeth, or the country-baked grooves of A.M. is bound to be disappointed. Wilco may be searching for something, but the answer most definitely is not emanating from a refurbished connection to its historical conquests.
Over the past decade, as it has moved from the Big Star-infused constructs of summerteeth to the experimental textures of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to the easy-going soulfulness of Sky Blue Sky, Wilco has defied expectations. Not only has the group made a series of stylistic shifts that have traveled to places where nobody ever expected it to go, but it also has accomplished its goals with almost unparalleled perfection. Nevertheless, it has gotten to the point where, by constantly raising the bar, Wilco is now facing prospects that are impossible to attain. Yet, even after it took a small step backward to examine its surroundings, as it did with Sky Blue Sky, the outfit remains perplexed about its future. Wilco’s identity undeniably has become closely identified with its chameleon-like abilities. In hindsight, though, this likely was an unintended reaction to its numerous personnel changes rather than a response to a sequence of thoughtful moves.
Much of this conflict and confusion seems to infiltrate Wilco (The Album). Although it is far from being an embarrassment, it is, perhaps, the most disappointing effort in Wilco’s canon. It seems as if to alleviate the enormous pressure it had placed on itself, Wilco decided to step into the studio, throw things at the wall, and see what happens. At times — most notably on the chugging, Velvet Underground-inspired Wilco (The Song) — the outing is so playfully delivered that it appears to have been tossed off. There are other moments, though, when the arrangements employed by the group seem inordinately scripted, as if — like some sort of indie-rock symphony concocted by a collaboration between Brian Wilson and Stephen Malkmus — every note and every sound was carefully slotted — and occasionally forced — into place.
As a result of the way that these two distinctly different moods tug against each other, Wilco (The Album) poses quite a conundrum. Its songs undeniably are well-crafted. Many of them — Tweedy’s fragile duet with Feist on You and I; the gentle, melancholy folk tune Solitaire; and, with an infectious chorus that resembles George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord, the mantra-like groove of You Never Know — are relatively easy to grasp. Those that aren’t — the start-and-stop interruptions of Deeper Down and the nervous darkness of Bull Black Nova — fall into line relatively quickly.
Yet, there’s a severe disconnection that occurs throughout Wilco (The Album). Its tracks hardly seem related or intertwined, thematically or musically. Instead of sounding like a seamless entity, the effort feels like a Frankenstein’s monster of spare parts, some old and some new. It’s too soon to worry about Wilco’s future, but for now, it certainly looks as if the outfit is stuck uncomfortably in a holding pattern without much fuel left in its creative tank. ˝
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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