Wilco: Wilco (The Album)

By: Kayceman

"Are you under the impression this isn't your life/ Do you dabble in depression?/ Is someone twisting a knife in your back/ Are you being attacked?/ Oh this is a fact that you need to know/ Wilco will love you."

It's crazy how divisive this opening line (and the whole first track "Wilco (the song") from the Chicago sextet's seventh full-length, Wilco (The Album) (arriving June 30 on Nonesuch), has seemingly become. Many Wilco fans have been rubbed wrong by this, claiming it cheesy, lame and egotistical. Me? I freakin' love it. I love the way the first thing you hear is Nels Cline's guitar riding over the beat and Tweedy comes in with the whole "Wilco will love you" sentiment. To me, this is a very sincere, heartfelt "thank you" to fans. Clearly this is a statement from the band – the crux of the album if you will - it is called "Wilco (the song)" from Wilco (The Album). Maybe it doesn't work for some, but from where this longtime fan stands, this is Wilco reaching a hand out, reminding us that music really can make things better. This is their offering in hard times. And maybe best of all, it's serious without taking itself too seriously. They mean it - they really do love you - but they also want you to laugh along with them.

Wilco (The Album) picks up the conversation exactly where Sky Blue Sky (the last release) dropped off. The writing, the arc of the album, and the way all the varied Wilco textures (swirling guitars, delicate acoustics, layers of electronics, inspired percussion all built upon air-tight song structures and lyrics) are mixed, this album could have only come after Sky Blue Sky, or if we didn't know better, maybe even directly before. Because while moving forward they've also looked back, incorporating a bit more of the studio wizardry, teeth-bearing bite and dusty country grit of their past. It's not that they've really evolved so much here, they are just boiling down all the ingredients of Wilco's 15 year history into a confident, compelling batch of songs.

This is unquestionably the most technically accomplished lineup of the band (did I mention Nels Cline?) and as Tweedy and company have grown a bit older, they seem happier than ever – and it comes through on The Album. But that doesn't mean these are all happy pop songs (although some of those do appear – notably the lovely ballad with Feist "You And I"). In fact, the album's best song, "Bull Black Nova," is one of the darkest, heaviest songs they've created. Buzzing with intense staccato keys and Cline's impossible guitar angles, "Bull Black Nova" is the cousin to A Ghost Is Born's "Spider's (Kidsmoke)," only here Tweedy sings of blood in his hair, on the sofa, in the sink, on the car – the shit is everywhere and Nels Cline makes you feel it.

Both the barrelhouse piano rocker "You Never Know" and the massive sing-along "Sunny Feeling" feature big choruses and huge hooks, while the sad lament on the State of the Union, "Country Disappear," and the delicate finger-picking on "Solitaire" reveal the contemplative side of the band.

This album ends the same way as Sky Blue Sky, with "Everlasting" serving the role that "On and On" did. Only as Tweedy again considers our ultimate fate, this time the song swells with an orchestra of emotions (and instruments), punctuated by Cline's ever-inventive guitar-talk.

At the end of the day, it's all opinion. I totally dig this album, maybe you don't, but there's a strong argument to be made that none of that matters, because like 'em or hate 'em, old fan or new, indifferent or passionate, Tweedy just wants you to know it's all gonna be okay. Don't worry, Wilco will love you.

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[Published on: 6/23/09]

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