With the release of their seventh studio album, Wilco has found an equilibrium between the various directions of its past releases. Having cast aside abstract experimentation in favor of more succinct melody and songwriting on their previous album, Sky Blue Sky, they, in some eyes, over simplified. Now, they have rebounded with mature soundscapes, smart lyrics, lush melodies and more. No longer the alt-country kids who discovered synthesizers or the rock band that set aside their synthesizers for the sake of simply jamming, Wilco is a band that has found itself amongst all of these identities and embraced them for the better. This is Wilco (the album.)
The opening cut is also entitled “Wilco”. Is this some sort of meta-humour? Perhaps, but, it seems more of a declaration of intent. Is life treating you poorly? Do you feel the need to escape? Wilco is here for you. How can that be bad? It might seem a tad pretentious but it’s an infectious song and everything is right about that.
“Deeper Down” features a gorgeous steel guitar and distant rolling rhythms from Glenn Kotche. “One Wing” reads like a relationship in review and, while this is not new territory for Jeff Tweedy’s writing, the song is compelling and features a desperate lead from guitar master Nels Cline. (This writer has made no secret of his respect and worship of Cline’s playing and I’m not going to start now.)
Speaking of Cline, his lead work on the study in tension entitled “Bull Black Nova” is nearly unnerving and carves a sharp contrast to the gentle, folk-rock of “You And I” which still manages to feature a brief, backwards guitar outro. The lyrics of the next song cast Tweedy as the sage tossing worry to the wind; freeing himself of care or responsibility because, hey, “You Never Know”. This is paired neatly with “Country Disappeared”, a beautifully bittersweet ballad about witnessing and surviving disaster in the unending news-cycle our modern, television age.
The verses of “Solitaire” initially call to mind the quiet break in “Good Vibrations” but the entire song resides in a somber space populated by steel guitar, banjo, and fender rhodes all mingling in the background. In spite of the tone, the lyric ends with a quiet redemption and a little hope for the days to come. Also on the topic of looking ahead, the narrator of “I’ll Fight” makes a promise to guide and defend its subject with his very life while an upbeat melody backs him up the whole way through.
“Sunny Feeling” is another rock number with an optimistic feel but a lyric that is, contrastingly, more one of stark realism. This leads us to the final track, “Everlasting”- a gorgeous reflection of the fleeting nature of all but love. This song and, indeed the album, fades away with a beautiful burst of Nels Cline wizardry.
Why, again, is this album named Wilco? Perhaps, it is because this record, more that any previous effort, actually sounds just like the band named Wilco. It is not awash in the new but rather steeped in that which we (Wilco fans) have already come to love. Yes, the songs are short but the arrangements are detailed and thoughtful and the lyrics are too. Nels Cline (as does the entire band,) shines on the record, bringing soaring leads and electronic chaos all in tasteful degrees. If there was any complaint I could offer it would be a plea for more Nels.
Not to worry, though. Wilco is currently out on the road and, from all reports, they are playing great shows. In fact, a good friend recorded their recent Las Vegas appearance (as seen in the photos accompanying this post) and has generously made it available at Etree. Check it out here.
Also, be sure to check them out tonight, June 24, on the Conan O’Brien show via your local NBC station.
Wilco hits shelves June 30. www.wilcoworld.net
Photos taken 2009-06-19 @ The Joint, Las Vegas, NV by Crystal DiPietro http://www.cdipietro.com/.
Used With Kind Permission. All Rights Reserved.