They’ll fight for you.
It pains us to say that any Wilco album is not a good album, but we did not consider Sky Blue Sky a good album. One of us disliked it; the other was only somewhat enthused. What virtue Sky Blue Sky did have was that it didn’t play it safe. It was spare and stripped down, musically and lyrically. Jeff Tweedy’s lyrics were plaintive and personal. It was in many ways a one-eighty from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
The main — the only — complaint we have with Wilco (the album) is that it doesn’t take many chances. This is exactly what some of our friends have said they love about it — and there’s a lot to love. Much of the album, with a heart that beats a 70s AM vibe, feels plucked from up and down the Wilco catalog. “Sonny Feeling” is in the same rowdy spirit as Being There’s “Dreamer in My Dreams”; “You Never Know” has the sunny pop jangle of a missing track from Summerteeth. The least pleasing song on Wilco (the album) at first listen — “Bull Black Nova” — is probably its most rewarding. A Krautrock cousin of “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”, the song’s structure echoes a migraine, or panic attack, or both. It pulses insistently from the start, gaining dissonance as Nels Cline layers in bursts of guitar over Tweedy lamenting, “I can’t calm down/I can’t think.” The lyrics suggest murder. It’s a haunting song.
The way “Bull Black Nova” has grown on us is the same way the album has grown on us. It has taken us a month of steady listening, but we’ve come around on Wilco (the album). This isn’t the same band we fell in love with over a decade ago, but there’s plenty of love to go around. “You and I” is lovely, plain and simple, and Feist and Tweedy make a natural pairing. It wouldn’t surprise us that if we had gotten married in 2009 instead of 2004, wedding-goers would find it on a mix CD sandwiched neatly between Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Eels as their favor.
While not many of these songs seem destined for the Wilco canon, the album is a well-sequenced, cohesive whole. The album’s best track, “I’ll Fight,” marches on with a relentless defiance, hinting at the religious undertones of “War on War” and “A Ghost Is Born” (the song). And no matter what Erik Brueggemann says about “Wilco (the song),” we dig it. It’s goofy and catchy. We’ll welcome any iconic rock band that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The August issue of Spin profiles Tweedy and bandmates, and it also devotes time to precocious young Spencer Tweedy, age 13, hipster in the making, professional blogger. You can peruse his thoughts at speencertweedy.com. Sample quote: “Sunburns suck! Majorly. You know what else sucks? Sleep deprivation.”