REVIEW: Wico (The Band) - "Wilco (The Album)"



As a longtime Wilco fan, I must confess that I'm pretty baffled by the current state of the band. Have the once alt-country superstars turned avant-experimental idea band seem to have slipped into the inertia ridden landscape of a adult contemporary jams. In a word, sadly, yes. Turns out Sky Blue Sky wasn't a fluke. The group's latest effort Wilco (The Album) is an amalgamation of schlock, pretension, and slick production. Wha happened?!?

I know a lot of people have opinions on the band and, frankly, unless you start talking about AM or Being There, I'm apt not to listen. You have to understand (or at least appreciate) the group's roots to understand both their genius and what has happened since. See, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot -- one of my favorite albums of the millenium -- didn't arise out of nowhere. And the sound that Wilco cultivated on it; skyscrapers of electronics, out of tune guitar riffs, and infectious melodies filled with akimbo associative lyrics; persists as some of the best songwriting of the past decade. They distanced themselves from drummers and the recently deceased Jay Bennett. Got former Sonic Youth member, guitar all-star Jim O'Rourke and released the self-hating, panic attack that is A Ghost is Born. What remained the still point in the turning axis of Wilco's lineup was Jeff Tweedy, the kind of idiot savant of Uncle Tupelo. Tweedy's storytelling ceased to lineup with the straight punk-influenced country of Tupelo and became word clusters and associations to places, emotions, themes. Listening to Tweedy on these two albums is like having cognitive dissonance with reality -- both charmed and frightened by it at the same time. In the heyday of Wilco, they managed to do what possibly only Radiohead has managed -- change who they were album to album while still being uniquely themselves.

Listening to Wilco (The Album), as a Wilco fan, you can't help but feel some sort of nostalgia for these Ghost and Yankee. And, if as some have suggested this album is some attempt to pin the band down, I have to ask: Why? You were so much better when you were trying to figure out who you were. Instead, this album is a seeming rehash of genre-songwriting with a few Nels Cline riffs that seem more like frosting than cake. Tweedy's hushed delivery falls flat or like he's better than you are particularly on the uninspired "You Never Know" -- "C'mon Children, you're acting like children, acting like children..." A lyric that I would normally let pass, if it sounded like the band was having fun, but this album doesn't sound like fun at all. It's at best an affirmation and at worst a sermon. Gone are the associations and angst. What we're left with is a rather bland, unappealing statment of fact...yeah, we're a band, yeah, we named this album after ourselves, clever, huh?

The beauty of Wilco is that they were never aware of being clever. They were fucked up and they knew it. They made the kind of music that someone fucked up making something beautiful would make. I'm not saying they should get fucked up again, but I am saying that I wish they wouldn't make something that is like what everyone else would think is beautiful. Who they are is all Wilco needs to be. Sadly, this album is not that.

2 tracks make this album not a total waste. The lonely wanderings of "One Wing" and the headphone masterpiece "You and I." In both tracks, there are the rumblings of Tweedy's past gold -- the desperate ache to relase yourself from knowledge, knowing that you have to know to feel. This a condrum that Wilco does so well. Probably because it's not static. I, for one, hope they return to those ways.


  1. As with their past albums, I've found this one sits with me better after multiple listens. You're right that it doesn't really break new ground, but generally it's got some good material that will be a lasting part of their live shows.

  2. It's interesting to read such a utilitarian review of such a interpretively veiled and deceivingly challenging album. See what's interesting about (the album) is that it really does seem to reveal the sort of conceptual reading level of the individual listener. To that point it should be said that your reading level I'm very sad to say seems quite elementary. This point should have been obvious enough though by your blogs use of Pitchforks pathetically scene and pretentious 10 point grading scale.

    You claim many things of Wilco's earlier work in your review but your comprehension of the band's past work seems quite damaged when you lazily sum up this new piece as "an amalgamation of schlock, pretension, and slick production." ... Yeah and Steely Dan didn't know what the were doing either... nice try.

    You look only at the surface of this work and consequently because of this you have only seen a topical level of reason to the bands choices in production, lyrics, track ordering, and overall direction for this album. You have completely ignored the most interesting shift this band has taken in it's discography to date. A shift away from it's singular narrative, and towards a level of self-awareness and inner commentary that the culture of Rock N'Roll has rarely seen achieved in tasteful and articulate ways.

    It's very easy for a group to go "experimental" these days as Wilco did with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. To that same coin it is equally as easy for one to externally "pull back" and strip down it's sound as Wilco also did with Sky Blue Sky. These are natural progressive movements within the modern Rock N' Roll narrative. What Wilco is now doing could be labeled as a movement into a true conceptually post-modern realm of Rock N' Roll. This thing has happened before but rarely has it been so deliberate as to come in the form of an album being titled (the album), or a song being titled (the song). Because you take these choices for granted you have deprived yourself of an understanding and comprehension of the choices made by Jeff Tweedy and Co. on this new effort.

    If I were you I'd give this album another listen.

  3. Dear Pittman,

    Thanks for your comment. I have listened to this album several times over and based on being a fan of the band even put it as one of my top albums of June at another blog. Nevertheless, I think that you're missing the wholeness of my review. You say:

    "You have completely ignored the most interesting shift this band has taken in it's discography to date. A shift away from it's singular narrative, and towards a level of self-awareness and inner commentary that the culture of Rock N'Roll has rarely seen achieved in tasteful and articulate ways."

    I think I address this pretty clearly in the review by praising some of Wilco's earlier work as being abstract and non-singular. In fact all of A Ghost is Born seems to border on the schizo. But, honestly, if you listen to this album and say that it reveals something about the band that we didn't (A.) Already know or (B.) wasn't repackaged in some sort of way to make it seem more appealing (crappy presents in good wrapping are still crappy presents).

    I maintain my stance that this album in itself has a few good tracks and probably is better than most albums out to date. Yet, based on Wilco's ability to redesign themselves, I find it to be wanting. As a fan and as someone who is interested in looking skeptically at bands I love.

    Thanks for your comment.


  4. I think that you need to listen to the album again. I don't know what you were expecting. Bad luck. But what is there is mind blowing. Give it another 10 tries, whatever it takes. Amazing shit.

  5. Let me elaborate, lest I seem naive. (God forbid I should be naive! - but you never know!). I think that this is my favorite Wilco album. There is a lot going here. Just because the music isn't immediately difficult, it isn't actually easy either. The unexpected part is almost always later in the songs. Are you actually checking out the lyrics? Do you understand English? "There is so much we don't understand". "Every evening we can watch from above, pull our guts into each other's love". Say what? Do you need a diagram. This music and the lyrics are off the charts. If you think there is anything better out there, please let me know. Not kidding, cuz I do want to check it out. Sorry if my case is poorly put. This album blows my mind. Has anyone thought about the (poorly yet bravely) Christ-based declaration of love of that wierd willingness to die? What's that about? Say what? Please advise. All kinds of stuff here. Not a song I don't like. One or two riffs that remind me of ELO (OH MY GOD!). Good God, haven't been this excited since Joan As Policewoman's first album. But I digress. Wilco, I'm not a fan, cuz nothing is taken for granted. But this is a great album. I don't think that you have ever put out a bad one. Consider this a job ap. Can I help? Just kidding. Deep up the profund work.

  6. Oh, just in case, oh lord, please don't let me be misunderstood, the ELO riffs in my mind aren't a good thing.

  7. Final point. Does any one read this?

  8. You're totally right.

    Although "You and I" is most likely to be the soundtrack of my life.

    Your website is amazing, by the way :D