Wilco (The Review)

Wilco has an odd discography.

Back in 2004 I picked up “A Ghost Is Born” on a whim after reading a positive review somewhere or other, and because I thought the egg-cover was cool. A couple of songs hit me between the eyes right off the bat: Spiders (Kidsmoke), a Krautrock aping 10 (nearly 11!) minute groove driven thing, Handshake Drugs and Theologians, which contained some great pop hooks and sounded like something George Harrison would have put out in the early 70’s, and Hummingbird, a breezy little number that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Paul McCartney’s “RAM” album. It took me a while to get into the more challenging material, but I eventually did (minus the regrettable 15 minute Less Than You Think), which led me to purchase the remainder of Wilco’s catalogue, in reverse chronological order. It seemed safer than starting at the beginning.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, even though it has been talked about to death, remains a beautiful album full of weird effects, acoustic guitars and great songs.

Summerteeth, from 1999, remains my favorite Wilco album, and Tweedy during this period has been described as a “landlocked Brian Wilson”. Although the music is upbeat, the lyrics are decidedly bitter, violent in some cases and strange. Very, very strange. Here’s an excerpt from Via Chicago:

I dreamed about killing you again last night
And it felt alright to me
Dying on the banks of Embarcadero skies
I sat and watched you bleed
Buried you alive in a fireworks display
Raining down on me
Your cold, hot blood ran away from me
To the sea

I painted my name on the back of a leaf
And I watched it float away
The hope I had in a notebook full of white, dry pages
Was all I tried to save
But the wind blew me back via Chicago
In the middle of the night
And all without fight
At the crush of veils and starlight

What’cha think about that, eh? Morbid as Hell, but please don’t let that take away from the overall beauty of the album. Kind of reminds me a bit of Neil Young’s Down By The River, whom Tweedy has also been compared to from time to time, by the way.

The double album before Summerteeth, Being There, is a mess, but a very good mess, the same way Exile On Main Street, The White Album and London Calling are a mess. It’s full of genre exercises; some work and some don’t. It’s like Tweedy is trying on different outfits and seeing which one suits him best: platform boots, leather pants, denim jacket, mirrored sunglasses, ripped jeans, Boston tee-shirt, cowboy hat and spurs? Rest assured, though, it actually works and remains one of the most satisfying listens from this odd little band.

Then things start to go a little askew, starting with the debut, A.M. It’s an enjoyable little alt-country album with a few decent numbers (I Must Be High, Casino Queen, That’s Not The Issue), but largely this is a forgettable platter of safe country tinged tunes that sounds like a band aspiring to be The Lemonheads. Not a good thing.

From 1995 we leapfrog all the way to 2007’s Sky Blue Sky. I couldn’t wait for this release! I eagerly awaited it’s Tuesday release for months, and when I got it and played it I nearly chucked it through the window. For a minute I thought the record company had mistakenly placed an America album in the case. Nope, it’s Wilco alright, I recognize Tweedy’s voice. Only two songs make it for me, Either Way and Hate It Here. And the rest of the album is plain toast.

I had a buddy burn me 2009’s Wilco (The Album), and you know what? I don’t care for that one much either. Bland, AOR. Tweedy better get his act together soon, man, or he’s gonna lose half his customers…