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Tag: Feist

Wilco (The Album)

by on Aug.30, 2009, under Good Music

I had been anticipating this one for a long, long time.  Of course, I have also been a Wilco fan for a long, long time.  I was there for their first, A.M. and aged with glee as every couple years or so, the band would morph into a better form and release a better album.  Being There topped A.M. Summerteeth topped Being ThereYankee Hotel Foxtrot topped SummerteethA Ghost Is Born topped everything.  Literally…everything.

Even the mightiest waves, however, must eventually break and return to the shore.  For Wilco, this happened with Sky Blue Sky. It wasn’t a bad album, overall – just sub par for the mighty Wilco, despite being the first studio album with Nels Cline and Pat Sansone in tow.  It was simply not consistently, totally and overwhelmingly prolific as anything since Being There.  It was a step back for one of my favorite bands and so I became concerned.

But hey.  This isn’t a review of Sky Blue Sky. It’s a review of the follow up:  Wilco (The Album).  And, for better or for worse, it’s position in the Wilco catalog makes Sky Blue Sky sound like a b-side collection.  Either way, Wilco fans  can all breathe much easier now.

So let’s just omit Sky Blue Sky because the comparison, or any idea of an evolution between albums, is futile.  Wilco (The Album) is obviously superior to Sky Blue Sky in every way.  Better writing.  Better production.  Better flow.  The question is this:  How does Wilco (The Album) stack up against the damn flawless A Ghost Is Born?

The short answer is pretty well.  Indeed, it does feel like Wilco (The Album) is the natural evolution from A Ghost Is Born. It’s hard for me to accept it as “better” but I can’t say there is anything contained within that makes it worse either.  The thing about it is that it really does seem like the most natural embodiment so far of “what Wilco is.”  The album title, hence, is perfectly timed and completely appropriate.  Likewise for the opening track, “Wilco (The Song),” which plays like the heart that all these Wilco veins have been transporting blood to for all these years.  It’s not just a song they say their name in – it is definitively Wilco.

That being said, it really exposes Ghost as being a fantastic album, but not so much a Wilco disc as a Wilco and Jim O’Rourke disc.  Sky Blue Sky was entirely produced by the band themselves, but in that case, that may have been the problem:  too much on their plate.   Alas, they have found a seemingly perfect balance on Wilco (The Album) with co-producer, Jim Scott (who helped engineer several previous albums).  This enabled the band to play their songs, and master their instrumentation – leaving an objective and familiar third party to do what was necessary to make the message clear without much dictating how that message was conveyed.  (Again, Jim O’Rourke had a fairly heavy hand in A Ghost Is Born, both choosing and playing instruments.)

So the production is clear and every note seems to be precisely placed.  This is by no means lazy writing.  Instrumentally, each sound is nailed down firmly with no disruption of the sonic feng shui.  Canadian songstress, Feist, makes an appearance here, lending vocals to the album’s fluffy center, “You and I.”  Surrounding this, despite fleeting moments of comfortable nuances, Wilco (The Album) does have something of a dark side.  The chilling “Bull Black Nova” intensely captures the thoughts and feelings of a man after murdering his girlfriend.  Other themes include failed relationships (“One Wing”), generational self importance (“You Never Know”)  and the finite nature of all things (“Everlasting Everything”).   There is also  some fairly ambiguous but haunting imagery contained in such songs as “Country Disappeared” (which perhaps may be about nuclear war) and “Sonny Feeling” (which might merrily allude to violence and even rape, but certainly to being in the wrong place at the wrong time).

Wilco (The Album), if nothing else, is incredibly mature, difficult to pin down, and incessantly catchy.  And as Wilco (the band) has always encapsulated through it’s many lineup changes and experimental sound sculpting, the album is a bittersweet cavalcade of mixed emotions.  Like I said…definitively Wilco.

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