Wilco: Sky Blue Sky (Take 1)

By: Parker Shields

It has been three years since Wilco's last studio album, the noisy, beautiful A Ghost Is Born, was released. In that span, the group has gone through some definite changes - bandleader Jeff Tweedy's new sober lifestyle and the addition celebrated jazz rocker Nels Cline on guitar being the most notable. These changes have helped to make Wilco one of the most consistently great live acts touring today. Unfortunately, something in the Wilco studio formula has been lost along the way.

It's not that Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch) is a bad album or even that it doesn't sound like Wilco, but after five brilliant albums, from A.M. to Ghost, Wilco fans have come to expect a lot. Consequently, it's what Sky Blue Sky is missing that makes a difference. The noise-rock studio freakouts and complex, thought-provoking lyrics we have come to expect are in short supply here. The sense of adventure and imagination that has oozed from previous Wilco releases just is not present.

Sky Blue Sky is, indeed, a Wilco album, so it's not a total loss. While his presence seems subdued in comparison to the live setting, Cline provides some of the most wonderful guitar work ever heard on a Wilco album. The second guitar solo in "Impossible Germany" is quite possibly worth the purchase price alone.

The album begins and ends with its strongest tracks – "Either Way," and "On and On and On." Equally strong are "You Are My Face," "Impossible Germany," "Walken" and "What Light." Unfortunately, the remaining six tracks are boring folk rock and adult contemporary that ultimately make Sky Blue Sky Wilco's least consistent release to date.

The songs on Sky Blue Sky may gain strength live but for now Wilco have released their first album that actually seems to get more tedious with each listen.

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[Published on: 5/17/07]

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