Wilco (The Album)

wilcologoI tried to like Wilco’s last effort, Sky Blue Sky. I really did. Listened to it in it’s entirety during commutes from San Francisco to Knoxville many times. Listened to it in my car, on headphones and on the stereo. After all these listens only four songs stood out as worthy of their back catalogue: Either Way, Hate It Here, You Are My Face and Impossible Germany. And we all know that 4 good songs out of 12 do not a classic album make. It’s possible that Wilco will never be able to live up to my expectations. I was a late bloomer to Wilco, my first purchase being 2004’s A Ghost Is Born; perhaps not the ideal album for the unitiated to start with admittedly, but I didn’t have any preconceived notions of what to expect. Just believing the hype and the All Music Guide review. Long story short I absolutely loved it, was awestruck by it’s originality and the variety of genres within the thing. From krautrock (Spiders/Kidsmoke)to McCartney styled piano ballads (Muzzle Of Bees & Hummingbird) to 70’s AOR (the wonderful Handshake Drugs and Theologians). All over the place, but somehow musically cohesive, save for the self indulgence of the 15 minutes of Less Than You Think (yes, Jeff, I get it!).

From there, as I am wont to do from time to time when I discover a band that really pushes my buttons, I delved like a maniac into their back catalogue in reverse chronological order and found each new (old?) release better than the last, until I got to their first album, AM, which is just simply pleasant country rock. Summerteeth has become my favorite Wilco album, and allmusic.com sums it’s overall feeling best by saying it sounds like an album a “Landlocked Brian Wilson” would make–no small compliment and completely apropos. And Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Being There were both excellent, experimental records that surely didn’t disappoint, only making me more of a Wilco devotee after each spin.

So to say that my expectations were somewhat high for Sky Blue Sky is somewhat of a vast understatement. But as I mentioned above I spun the album over and over again hoping to find the cohesion the other albums had, the spark that made Wilco one of my new favorite bands, but it wasn’t there for me. I felt the album was pleasant, but boring and a little too “polished” and “safe” for my liking. Gone were the wild experiments and in their place was John Denver. Well maybe that’s not fair, but it did remind me of early 70’s A.M. soft rock.

And this new album had that same feeling, at least on the first spin. But after 3 complete plays this weekend it’s really starting to grow on me. It sounds more relaxed but in a more energetic way and contains some nice sonic surprises. Jeff Tweedy has gone from John Denver to George Harrison in the space of two albums, and that’s no bad thing. Not at all. I’m not going to give a full on review here, I don’t feel I’m qualified yet. Here’s hoping that this is the album to bring Wilco back as a serious contender for Best Band In America.