Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wilco Offers Up Its Big Sonic Shoulder

I know that while Wilco (The Album) has already been reviewed about a gazillion times in the first two weeks it has been out, everyone is waiting for The Room to weigh in. And for good reason. I am not a "true Wilco fan." The evidence:
  • I didn't own any Wilco or even really know about the whole Uncle Tupelo/Wilco/Son Volt complex until only about a year ago. We will wait while you take that in (and hope it doesn't mean you will never return).
  • I would take Sky Blue Sky or Being There over Yankee Hotel Foxtrot any day, which is to say I like them the best when they aren't in their edgy, experimental mode.
  • I also like Son Volt very much which any true Wilco fan would probably consider at least a venial, if not a mortal, sin.
All of which gives me my particular perspective on Wilco. I don't have piles of expectations to heap upon this album (or any of their offerings), which also probably means I am not in a position to be hugely or even mildly disappointed. And that results in this incredibly insightful assessment of their new album.
I like it. Actually quite a bit. And like it more, the more I listen to it.
It is definitely more cool, groove Sky Blue Sky than dissonant Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but still there is something for everyone here I think. Of course, that might also mean that the album is not consistent enough in one direction to please anybody--I note that while those gazillion reviews are generally favorable they are all a bit tepid. Ultimately, though I think the All Music review has it down.
If Wilco (The Album) as a whole is considerably less ambitious than its predecessors, it compensates with its easy confidence and craft: it's the work of a band that knows their strengths and knows what they're all about, and it's ready to settle into an agreeably comfortable groove.
I am going to go out on the self-projection limb here and say that it is possible that this has a bit to do with age as well. Tweedy seems much more interested in relationships, reflection and adjustments than angst and being misunderstood.
But enough meta, let's look at "The Album" a bit shall we and let's start right at the beginning with "Wilco (The Song)" which is simply a fabulous Wilco pop romp to open up with and I can imagine it being a favorite show opener as well. This song got me thinking that someone should write about great first songs (someones, are you listening?) and this would be one of my choices.
For me a great first song immediately makes you know you want to listen to that album, right then--it is the right choice for your mood. It sets the tone and gives you a positive emotional feeling (not necessarily happy, but more at satisfaction). Now this opening song does, in fact, make me happy. After all, who can resist the charming refrain of having Tweedy tell you that "Wilco will love you baby?" And it is as they say a "big sonic shoulder" that you can cry on, but more than that. It is Wilco putting their arm around you and letting you know everything is okay--really, they understand. And somehow, that actually conveys and works with this song.
There are several other very Wilco pop/rock tunes mixing both Beatles sounding harmonies and music with a certain level of dissonance and feedback. "Sonny Feeling" offered up below is a good example. The only real edgy tune musically is "Bull Black Nova" which is the most Yankee sounding tune with guitars vs. techno sounds creating a certain repetitive discord with feedback and high volume lyrics resolving the tune.
Then there are the slower and mid-tempo tunes which form the majority of the album--although scattered so as not to feel like the album is dominated by them. Most have interesting musical identities from the Nick Drake sounding "Solitaire" to the 70's groove thing that is "Country Disappeared" which you can sample below. Then there is the "You and I" duet with Feist which is not quite Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand, but is, well, as close to that as you want Tweedy to get. Then again, it seems to work as the antithesis to "Bull Black Nova" which it follows.
And so all and all, this might just be a solid, but unremarkable album for Wilco, but I suspect that the more folks listen to it, the more they are going to find themselves wanting to listen to it more. And goodness knows if this were their first album, people would probably be thinking they were geniuses!
So check it out. Here is the opening "shoulder" along with two others to give you a sample.
Wilco (The Album) Buy the Album

Sonny Feeling

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