The Music Box's #1 album of 1999
First Appeared at The Music Box, September 1999, Volume 6, #9
Written by John Metzger
As a member of Uncle Tupelo, Jeff Tweedy may have helped to found the alt-country movement, but with Wilco’s third album Summerteeth he leaves both his former collaborator Jay Farrar and the genre far behind. The group's last effort Being There contained hints that the band was going to move in a new direction, and this undoubtedly was fueled further by the addition of Jay Bennett. Even so, it’s doubtful that anyone expected the collective to move this far so quickly.
In essence, Summerteeth is a concept album that digs deep into the dark corners of Tweedy’s mind, and the story revolves around the insecurities and temptations of life on the road. Heroin, bad tempers, infidelity, and dreams of murder all taunt and torture the singer as he experiences the solitary loneliness of his rock star life. "How to fight the loneliness/Smile all the time," he sings with an air of claustrophobic boredom. The darkness is occasionally broken as the singer tries to step into the light, and he recognizes that his thoughts and feelings are wrong. He knowingly admits that "a kiss is all we need" on Nothing’severgonnastandinmyway(again), and he pleads "I still care, and I still love you," on Pieholden Suite before adding "but you know I’ve been untrue." There is a happy ending to the tale as the singer returns home and realizes his troubles lie in the fact that he keeps everything bottled up inside himself. "I was trying to keep the door locked/I realize that’s a mistake" he proclaims to his lover, and though he’s dreamt of killing her he concedes, "It doesn’t seem to mean anything."
Musically, Wilco gives Summerteeth a more uplifting flavor that seems to try to allow the material to escape from the darkness of its lyrics. The band attempts to elude to the claustrophobic travails of the road by allowing the songs to float through a whirlwind of guitars, percussion, and synthesizer. Throughout Summerteeth, Wilco incorporates an enormous array of influences — a list that is so long it’s impossible to enumerate here — and there’s a pervading spirit of estranged love that seems plucked straight from John Lennon’s Walls and Bridges. Yet, underneath the many musical layers, these are still inherently Tweedy's compositions.
Wilco poured its heart and soul into the making of Summerteeth — an instant classic that will only grow in stature as the years go by. Whether the band ever can live up to the expectations that it has now set with this release remains to be seen, but then Wilco always has been full of surprises. Suffice it to say that Summerteeth is a brilliantly crafted masterpiece that rightfully should find itself included on many lists of the year’s best albums.
Summerteeth is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 1999 The Music Box