My good buddy Matt Hoffman has been waiting for his requested review for a good long time now. And with good reason – he’s been waiting since, what, July? Poor guy.
Matt asked me to review Wilco’s new self-titled album (Wilco (The Album) as they call it), which I have had sitting in my iTunes since its release without having actually listened to it once in its entirety. I can’t explain why this is; a few songs have popped up here and there, but I guess I have just been distracted with other records, which tends to happen often (I have a horrible attention span). But I consider Wilco to be one of my favorite modern rock bands, and so it is a little weird that I have ignored their new release for such a long time. I haven’t heard Dinosaur Jr’s new album yet either, which came out around the same time as Wilco’s. Do I just not care anymore?? Oh jeez.
No, I don’t think that’s it. I am just not a man that gets very excited about new music releases from anybody (which is kind of weird since I run a music blog but let’s get past that for a bit), so I just kind of let them fall by the wayside. The only new release that I have been excited about recently has been the Flaming Lips’ Embryonic – ’cause, y’know, it’s the Flaming Lips and all that. But I am also a pretty big Wilco fan so I still have no real reason to not be all excited about this album too! What is the deal here??
Hey it doesn’t matter let’s just talk about the album we have here. Wilco (The Album)‘s first track is called “Wilco (the song)” and for the life of me sounds like a song that is actually about the band itself, which is the weirdest thing. I could be completely wrong here (and feel free to correct me if I am) but I think Wilco are quite possibly the first band to write a theme song about themselves since, oh I don’t know, the Monkees? But that’s the thing, ‘cuz the Monkees’ theme song was the first track on their first album, not to mention the opening theme song for a TV show based around them (and hey it wasn’t even WRITTEN by them). Wilco, I will say, are the first band to write a track about themselves as the opener of their seventh studio album after a decade-and-a-half career in the music industry. “This is a man with arms open wide / A sonic shoulder for you to cry / ay, ay, ay, on, Wilco / Wilco will love you, baby.” Hmm.
But besides that bizarre moment of self-mythology, Wilco’s new album is not really anything new. I know I sound like kind of a dick saying that, but it’s true; Wilco (The Album) shares the same down-home chilled-out atmosphere as 2007’s Sky Blue Sky, but you’ll hear some Yankee Hotel Foxtrot here and some Summerteeth there, and maybe even some hints of their earliest records. I wouldn’t know, myself, because I’m a terrible Wilco fan and the only Wilco records I have heard are all the ones I just listed above. I’m a shallow shallow man.
Oh man I was going to talk about those other Wilco albums before but I forgot to! Let me fill you in. 1999’s Summerteeth was the first Wilco album I ever heard and it is still my favorite. It’s pop magnificence, man! Catchy hooks and great production and “A Shot In The Arm” and all that. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is pretty good and I love “Heavy Metal Drummer” and all but I am not as crazy about it as so many other people are. I haven’t heard it in a while, maybe that’s my problem, but it’s a little too moody for my tastes. Would you hate me if I told you I kinda like Sky Blue Sky a little better?? It’s such a pretty album! I admit that it’s not a “sonic masterpiece of this decade” or anything like that but it’s just so amiable that I can’t help but love it. “You Are My Face”? “Side With The Seeds”? “What Light”? Get out of my face, those are so good.
So in that context I would say that Wilco (The Album) sounds like a mix of Sky Blue Sky‘s mellow atmosphere and Summerteeth‘s immaculate pop songcraft, which is why I am confused that I don’t like it a lot more than I do. I don’t dislike it or anything, but I have listened through it four or five times now and my only reaction as been along the lines of “oh, that was pleasant.” Pleasant, but nothing that grabs me, you know? Sky Blue Sky was “pleasant” too but it kind of sucked me in in a way that I can’t quite pinpoint. Maybe I just liked the songs better?
That might be the case. My favorite songs here are the straight-up pop songs: the aforementioned “Wilco (the Song)”, the groovy “Sonny Feeling”, and the wonderful “You Never Know,” the first single from the album. “You Never Know” is honestly a great single and probably the best and most inviting pop song Wilco has written since Summerteeth. Every time it comes on I have to sit there and listen to the whole thing, it makes me feel so good! And that cutesy George Harrison-esque guitar solo near the end? Jeff Tweedy are you trying to paralyze me with powerpop fanboy glee?? Man, what a good track.
There are a couple vaguely “artsy” songs on here, too – “Deeper Down” recalls Yankee Hotel Foxtrot with its unusual structure, and “Bull Black Nova” repeats this bizarre monotonous piano riff for a while before descending into a guitar jam not unlike Sky Blue Sky‘s “Impossible Germany.” But besides these songs and the aforementioned pop-rockers, Wilco is a pretty mellow album, almost to a fault. Songs like “Country Disappeared” and “Solitaire” are quite lovely, really they are, and Tweedy’s duet with Feist in “You and I” is nice and all. But it feels a little drab and there are times when I feel like they are retreading old ground – does “I’ll Fight” sound a bit much like “On And On And On” from the last album or am I just paranoid? The whole album smacks of a “been there done that” sort of feeling for me. I think it’s fine for a band to consolidate their strengths and write songs in a signature style that they know they’re good at, and clearly this is what Wilco did on this album. I just feel like most of the songs are not as good as songs on previous releases.
But really – I’m being overly negative. If you are a casual Wilco fan I’m sure you’ll like this album, because it certainly is a Wilco album! Jeff Tweedy sings on every song and there are guitars and catchy hooks and Americana and all that. Also the word “Wilco” is on the cover of the record so you know what you’re in for. And “Sonny Feeling,” hey, that’s a fun little track huh? I think I would honestly like Wilco (The Album) a whole lot more if they’d stuck with the fun pop-rock of those aforementioned few tracks for the whole album, but that’s just me and I am not the wisest man alive.
Matt, do you like it? I’m sorry if you do because I have been a dick in this review like always and I’m sorry to do this to you. I mostly like it! It just feels a little slow and samey sometimes. What can you do?
Whatever. I’m happy Wilco are still around. And when else am I gonna be able to compare them to the Monkees? Never, ever again. That is something to cherish. Oh, how I wish I could write this review of Wilco’s 2009 release Wilco (The Album) for the rest of my life.
But no, I can’t do that. Then when would I ever get to Limp Bizkit??
(Oh, and Matt – do you have a blog or a website or anything? If so gimme a shout and I’ll link to it.)