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Wilco (The Album)

by Roger Young / 24.07.2009

Wilco (The Album) starts off with the jaunty little number “Wilco (The Song)” and the line “Are you under the impression this isn’t your life. Do you dabble in depression, is someone twisting the knife in your back?” leading into the chorus “Wil-co, Wil-co, Wilco love you baby.” Gone, in this song, are layers of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Summerteeth. It’s a return in mood, if not entirely musically, to the Tweedy parts of Uncle Tupelo’s later output. Not surprisingly, in “real” country style the musician who shaped the mood of the earlier Wilco, and arguably a large portion of YHF, left the band albums ago, and was busy suing them for unpaid royalties until he recently died of a heart attack/accidental overdose. But, in my mind, Jay Bennett still haunts Wilco (The Album) if not Wilco (The Song). Although trying to work out the roles, influences and trajectories of the members of Wilco, former and present, is like trying to work out which of Hank Williams’ personalities wrote which Luke the Drifter songs.

(The Album) is certainly not shit. But it’s not Yankee Hotel or A Ghost Is Born. (And certainly from those albums, Wilco have to take some of the blame/credit for the existence of Bon Iver and Iron & Wine). It serves as a perfect inroad for the uninitiated into the world of Wilco, primarily because of its structure. “(The Song)” starts us off with the more accessible Wilco in straight up tempo rock mode, then “Deeper Down” slows down into the seventies keyboards, the tinkling, the spooky violin-ish sound and Tweedy’s signature whispery-ness.

(The Album) is like a strange journey through the many moods and incarnations of Wilco, but in the form of new songs. On first listen it’s inessential, but like most of their work the skill of Tweedy is revealed on repeated listens, in the layers of sounds, the way the piano bounces off the lines like “Come on children, you’re acting like children. And every generation thinks it’s the worst.” The slidey sound underneath it all.

Comparing “You and I” and “I’ll Fight” illustrates perfectly Tweedy’s abilities as the creative force behind the band (The only other members who’ve been around for the whole trip are the bassist and the manager). “You and I” is a slow little egg shaker and breathy guitar duet with Feist that goes into ambiguous lyrical territory. “I’ll Fight” is a gentle sing-along stomper in the alt.country tradition with slide guitar, moog like sounds, and driving acoustic beat.

“Solitaire” sums up Tweedy’s approach and reputation. It is moody, complex and his own. It is also the song where Bennett’s influence can be felt most, sparse and multilayered. The lyrical structure is all Tweedy’s though: “Once I thought, without a doubt, I had it all figured out. The universe with hands unseen, I was as cold as gasoline. Took too long to see, I was wrong to believe in me, only.”

More than anything (The Album) is less of an album than any other Wilco album and more just a collection of great new Wilco songs. There is certain playfulness in the conviction and a neediness that is appealing, “This is all of our arms open wide. A sonic shoulder on which to cry.”

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