Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Review: Wilco, Wilco (The Album)

Artist: Wilco
Album: Wilco (The Album)
Released: June 26, 2009 on Nonesuch Records
Rating: A-

           I would like to start this review with a short disclaimer. Wilco is my favorite band of all-time. As I sit here typing at my computer, I am actually nervous because I am about to review Wilco (The Album), work coming from a band whose previous albums are almost indistinguishable in my mind because I consider them to all be so uniformly excellent. Nonetheless, understanding my responsibility to some semblance of objective standards, I will do my best to remain unbiased.
         Though I am confused (yet amused) by the camel-birthday-party that graces the album’s cover, it makes pretty good sense that Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy chose to title this effort Wilco (The Album). The album is the second that the band has made with its current six-man lineup, a departure from the more hectic band-member-shuffling days and also something that may suggest the band is finding its comfort zone and its identity. You won’t hear the balls-out drinking man’s rock music from A.M. or the experimental noise from A Ghost is Born, but rather a more restrained, yet still classic Wilco incorporating both extremes of their sound.

    “Wilco (The Song)” kicks off the album, a rollicking, humorously self-aware introduction that may well be the best song on the album, or at least the most catchy, radio-ready song by virtue of tightly structured guitars and keyboards. However, Wilco would not be Wilco without Tweedy and guitarist Nels Cline getting’ freaky with the screeching reverb and they get their chance on songs like “Bull Black Nova” – about a man who has just killed his girlfriend – and “Deeper Down.” Generally, Wilco (The Album) explores the softer side of the band, with Tweedy crooning over softer melodies on “Deeper Down,” “One Wing,” and “Solitaire,” and dueting with songstress Leslie Feist on “You and I.” Nonetheless, Tweedy has always refused to say Wilco is anything but a rock n’ roll band, and Wilco doesn’t fail to bring the characteristic glittering, upbeat Wilco rock n’ roll on songs like “You Never Know” and “Sonny Feeling” with the entire band jamming out in that signature, almost-random-noise-but-somehow-still-brilliant-music-that-you-know-they-are-agonizing-over-in-the-studio, Wilco fashion.           Wilco (The Album) is not the band’s best album. In fact, it may not even be in their top three or four albums, but that means little when you are talking about a group of such phenomenal musicians with Tweedy’s brilliantly strange lyrics added to the mix. Also, the album has been receiving much more publicity than Wilco’s previous albums, reaching #4 on the Billboard charts, the same ranking achieved in 2007 by Sky Blue Sky. If you meet a stranger on the street and tell them that your favourite band is Wilco, they are just as apt to respond “Who?” as they are to respond “I like Wilco.” However, the success of the band’s last two albums seems to indicate that Wilco may have their foot in the door of the mainstream. While, Wilco (The Album) is not their best work, it is nonetheless a solid album that, as Tweedy says, sounds like what Wilco is. Anyone who picks up Wilco (The Album) and does it the favor of giving it a few listens will get a perfect introduction to the treasure trove that is the rest of the band’s work.

--Mark Waterman
The Cosmic American Music Radio Hour
Tuesdays 12-2 p.m.

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