Wilco (the album) (Nonesuch Records, 2009)

spin_wilco.gifI don’t know how to write this.

 

 

 

 

Well, let me start by being blunt. This album really disappointed me. Please understand what it takes for me to write this. If you asked me if I were a Wilco fan, I would answer in the affirmative. I have heard Wilco put out some of the most interesting music with some of the best lyrics, and all with a fascinating and creative narrative rarely seen in bands nowadays. This is what has supported Wilco’s rise to musical success, and it has been hard earned and well deserved in my opinion.

It is really not enough for me to just say that this album is bad, because there are plenty of bad albums out there that I wouldn’t waste your time with. With Wilco, however (the band and the album), I really feel let down. Oh, I know it isn’t fair for me to look for pity or anything, and I’m not trying to imply that Wilco owes me exactly the album I want. But in a strange and perhaps paternal sense, I feel like Wilco let Wilco down with this album.

Is it a horrible album? No. But it’s not good. I’ve been listening to this album over and over, on my stereo, in my headphones, and in my car on a recent trip to Santa Cruz. I’ve listened to it quite a bit because I owe it to Wilco. Here’s what I can say after many a repeated listening: The album keeps getting a bit more listenable with each spin, but it doesn’t get any better.

The album is a bit goofy and tongue-in-cheek lyrically at points, which is a shame, as Jeff Tweedy really is a brilliant lyricist. The music sounds rather uptight (at points with ugly vocal melodies) with a bouncy 1/8-note obsession forced on most of the songs, which limits the breadth and depth drummer Glenn Kotche brings to their sound. Talented multi-instrumentalists Pat Sansone and Mikael Jorgensen seem to constantly be doing something to cleverly add layers to the sound (please don’t ask me what exactly), but more often than not it seems to walk the line of being unnecessary and mildly ridiculous noise, which after enough time exhausts the ears.

John Stirratt (the only original member left with Tweedy) has always added simple, yet very tasteful bass lines and vocal harmonies to the Wilco repertoire. I don’t know that I can take fault with Stirratt on this album; it just seems unfortunate that he sounds trapped into playing rather bouncy, uninspired bass lines on the upbeat songs. Sadly, I don’t know that he was left many other options with the way the songwriting turned out. Finally, there is Nels Cline on guitars. As many hipsters will tell you, Cline is a phenomenal avant-garde/punk-jazz guitarist. The accolades heaped upon him are deserved, but I sadly can’t think of Wilco being radically the worse off without Cline. His playing is often technically impressive for the sake of such, but in many of the upbeat songs, too busy and for lack of breadth.

I could imagine Wilco (the album) being a soundtrack to a rather bad Wes Anderson film. Think of Rushmore without the stellar British Invasion music and instrumental touches by Mark Mothersbaugh. Also, imagine the film to be more goofy and awkward, but just far less poignant.

The standout songs on the album are those in which Wilco takes a breath and a step back from the barrage of 1/8 notes and busyness. "One Wing" gives Kotche the space he uses so well, and the drumming is really something to take delight in. "Solitaire" showcases Tweedy’s skill as a lyricist and songwriter, and the music is gentle in all the right places to let some beauty arise out of it.

It makes me sad to say, but this is a Wilco album you don’t need;  it may be better to avoid, actually. The more you listen to it, all you’ll realize is that you can listen to it more. You won’t like it any more. Does Wilco have soul? Yes, I’ve heard it before. Did I hear it on this album? No. | Andy Powell

This article was originally published in The Times-Standard.

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