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Reviewed for Fasterlouder
If Wilco ever wanted to use an album as a CV to show off all of their skills then this is the one. Wilco (the album) sees the band taking stock of their career and attempting to summarise it in 42 succinct minutes.
The title alone is a giveaway that the album is a pause to reflect on what they have achieved. The theme is reinforced with ‘Wilco (the song)’ and Jeff Tweedy’s direct address to the fans, pondering the different roles Wilco can play in their lives. “Are you under the impression this isn’t your life, do you dabble in depression” go the opening lines, clearly setting the scene for a somewhat tongue-in-cheek evaluation of the bands worth.
Both ‘Deeper Down’ and ‘Everlasting Feeling’ fit the template of Beatles-esque ballads with their tender piano-led melodies. It is Wilco at its most sensitive, softly spoken and easy listening (but not in a bad way).
‘You Never Know’ and ‘Sonny Feeling’ are the upbeat, good-times Wilco. The latter puts aside any pretensions and rocks and rolls with abandon, much like ‘Heavy Metal Drummer’ did on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It is the band at the most flirtatious and sounding like they are having fun.
The two tracks that have the most impact on early listens are ‘You and ‘I featuring Feist on vocals and the spidery krautrock of ‘Bull Black Nova’. You and I is a deceptively simple love song and it works brilliantly. Tweedy and Feist share the microphone rather than alternating verses or lines. It creates an intimate and sweet atmosphere for the song which deals in the realities of relationships, the good and the bad and the desire to make things work out between two people.
Nels Cline’s guitar playing on the record is sublime and inventive as usual. When he fades into view on ‘You And I’ with a backwards guitar solo it mirrors the reflective theme of the song perfectly; such is the lyrical brilliance of his playing.
‘Bull Black Nova’ is the sole highlight for those who have come to respect and enjoy Wilco for their more experimental free-spirited songs. A standard song structure is thrown out the window and the focus is on the hypnotic rhythms of Glenn Kotche and John Stirratt. Piano and guitar chugs along over the top with ideas coming and going like an aural collage. The song provides a breath of relief among the more standard americana stylings and it is Wilco acknowledging the challenging side of their creativity and reminding us that it still remains strong.
The most interesting question to arise from Wilco (the album) is what will come next? A very good, but not a classic Wilco record, it sits in the second tier of their releases, somewhere alongside AM and Being There. It feels like a pause before another significant chapter in their story and so, as they plan their next move, it is reassuring that they can still create music this consistently good after 15 years of their existence.