It’s no secret that I love Wilco.
I’ve watched them grow from playing inside a packed Lynagh’s Music Club in Lexington to being headliners at last year’s Lollapalooza. Even though Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will always lay claim to being My Favorite Band, no one will ever come close to capturing the emotional pull that Wilco has (more on that a future date, I’m sure).
Since debuting in the mid-1990s with A.M., the band has grown progressively deeper with each passing album, pushing the bounds of experimentation without sacrificing the overal melodies and tunes of each song. Frontman Jeff Tweedy and his bandmates (its current makeup, and its best, is John Stirratt, Nels Cline, Pat Sansone, Mikael Jorgensen and Glenn Kotche) value the sound of a song, making each one a miniature masterpiece, even while challenging what makes up those sounds.
As each new album got progessively different, a backlash was bound to happen once Wilco opted against re-invention. Based on early reaction, that time is now, it appears. Those people, however, are wrong.
Wilco (the album) doesn’t add any new twists to the “Wilco sound,” but make no mistake, it’s still a fantastic album. As the best records do, it grows progressively better with each listen, each song blending into the next for an overall feel for 45 minutes or so.
And while it works completely as a whole, that’s not to say there are no standout tracks. “One Wing” is somehow simultaneously laid back and energetic, with lyrics making it an honest plea about lost love and chances — “one wing will never fly dear.”
“You Never Know” and “Sonny Feeling” are more upbeat rock numbers that would have almost sounded at home on the band’s second album, Being There, while “I’ll Fight” is a perfect continuation from the sound of Sky Blue Sky. “I’ll Fight” also contains a haunting line that is perhaps the best on the album:
And if I die
I’ll die, I’ll die alone
Like Jesus on the cross
My faith cannot be tossed
My life will not be lost
If my love comes across
Wilco (the album)‘s highlight though, is “Bull Black Nova” a song that perfectly matches lyrics about a murder with music that sounds like madness. The pulsing guitars and keyboards make you feel like you’re slowly losing a grip on sanity, while Tweedy singing “It’s in my head/There’s blood in the sink/I can’t calm down/I can’t think.”
Wilco (the album) doesn’t soar to the sonic heights of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but it’s not trying to either. YHF was a band finding its footing, expanding itself into the dawn of a new musical era, all while its lead singer/creative source battled personal demons and drug problems and the band itself was fractured by in-fighting and turmoil. Wilco (the album) is the sound of maturity, of happiness, of quietly growing. It’s the sound of a band at peace with its music and, most importantly, itself.