Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wilco (the album review, kinda)

When Wilco's new record came out, under the deceptive title "Wilco (the album)," I meant to write a proper review. But, you know, work, and summer festivals, and seeing that movie based on a toy I played with as a child, and all that.

So to add a little context to the UIC show review, here are the notes from my first listen through the record, with some editorial remarks for clarity. (Hopefully you'll enjoy my midsummer snark.)


referring to "Wilco (the song)"... I'm not afraid to admit that I cheered and clapped ("WOOO!!") at the end of the first song. However, it drew a weird look from the co-blogger on the other side of the room.

There's a reason why the cliche "I prefer their earlier work" exists ... artists in general, and rock musicians in specific, create their best stuff when they are young, pissed off, confused, drunk, heartbroken. Rare is the artist who improves with age; most say their peace and disappear from the scene after a few albums/years. Let us appreciate an artist like Tweedy who, a decade after being the "other guy" in an early 1990s trio, formed his own band out of the ashes and was still producing his best material over a decade later. And yes, Carolyn and others, feel free to substitute "Dave Grohl" for "Tweedy" in that sentence.

In contrast to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which I HAD heard before it was released, this album feels like I've already heard it. I remember the anticipation, the uncertainty of listening to records like Summerteeth and Sky Blue Sky ... what's THIS ONE gonna sound like? Is it weird? Will I like it? None of that anticipation here. Critics elsewhere have theorized that the mundane title "Wilco (the album)" is a tacit acknowledgement that this one marks time while waiting for the next creative burst. To put it another way, Wilco has now accomplished (if that indeed is the right word) something the Jayhawks never did in roughly 20 years as a band: release two straight albums with the same lineup.

A good example: "You Never Know," which I thought was "I Don't Care Anymore." Yes, I have heard XRT play this one a couple times in the past few weeks. (Not "Pure Michigan," mind you, I'm talking once or twice.) But beyond its casual familiarity, it just sounds and feels like an "old" Wilco song (in the old comfortable shoes or sweatshirt sense, not the 1994 sense.) Another is "Sunny Feeling," a pleasant, mid-tempo, mid-Wilco era bouncer.

Solitaire: I was convinced this was a cover of "Good Vibrations" until the first or second line. I got confirmation from the co-blogger that it wasn't just me. Of course, this isn't anything new. (think "sesame street" on Being There )

Now I see why "Bull Black Nova" gets mentioned in the early reviews. It isn't necessarily the best song, or most noteworthy, it just resembles notable tracks off the last two releases (Kidsmoke and Impossible Germany).

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