First off, it is only fair to mention that, in no uncertain terms, I love Wilco. From early the muted beginnings on A.M. up to the last time I saw them in concert about a month ago, I hold a great affection for the multifarious offerings of any and all iterations of the group known as Wilco. It seems fair that I disclose this at the beginning of the review since the record itself opens with a similar proclamation, that Wilco will, in fact, love you, baby.
Having said that, Wilco (the album) is the easiest record to dismiss by the group since A.M. (their debut). Ever since the landmark release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the band’s detractors have accused the group of either retreading over the same ground or escaping into the condescendingly named genre of “Dad Rock.” All of this seems to be more a product of a sort of mythologizing process that went on in the year or so on either end of the release of YHF. In truth, Wilco made its most dramatic jumps from A.M. to Being There and from Being There to Summerteeth. Sure, the mood and texture of YHF bares faint resemblance to the sunny, immaculate poppiness of Summerteeth, but all of the musical tools and sonic tricks that it employed have remained mainstays of the band ever since. It was at this point that the band became comfortable dropping the twangy fiddles and pedal steel guitars almost entirely in favor of lots of keyboards, recording effects, esoteric percussion, and more complicated song structures. Which has remained largely consistent with this approach, more or less, despite making fairly fresh and unique records each time out.
Getting back to the record at hand, though. As with most Wilco records, its closest sonic cousin is the record immediately preceding it, in this case 2007’s Sky Blue Sky. The lush keyboard structures and Nels Cline’s tasteful yet virtousic and vaguely experimental guitar playing that marked that record, as well as Tweedy’s lyrics switching back and forth from disjointed free association to very concrete, even mundane subject matters remain the principle foci here. A couple of tracks once again veer into a worringly 70s AOR rock territory (the aforementioned “Dad Rock”), most notably the lead single “You Knever Know” and “Country Disappeared,” although the latter track comes off a little better in the end because of Tweedy’s ever-more-confident falsetto vocals. However, the record features so much that, if not surprising and innovative, shows off what the band does well. The opening theme song of the band, “Wilco (the song),” really should be annoying except for the distorted underlining guitar parts and the spot-on vocal performance (+ the priceless Summerteeth-style bridge). “Bull Black Nova” is also being widely celebrated as a leaner, meaner version of “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” plus their are the usual assortment of delicate, lyrically intense songs like “Solitaire” and “Deeper Down.”
Two songs that offer up the best of the current Wilco line-up though, are “One Wing” and “Sonny Feeling,” both of which are unabashed rock songs with clever lyrical conceits that seamlessly blend the more esoteric version of Wilco with the roots-rock goodness version of the band. Anyway, I understand the somewhat disgruntled reaction from longtime fans, but, as a longtime fan, I have to say point-blank that it’s damn good just to have a new Wilco record again…
Wilco – “One Wing”