Dec 082011
 

It’s me, not you, Wilco.

The experience of listening to any new Wilco album is fraught with mixed emotions. I like the fact that they’re a band that knows what it means to at least want to be great. They’re a guitar-based band with the sonic core of that strain of Classic Rock, that began with Bob Dylan’s landmark electric albums and ran through The Band, the Stones’ Mick Taylor era, and Neil Young. Like those artists they’ve got an experimental bent, even pulling in the occasional Pet Sounds, minimalist, and “European” influences. They can rock pretty hard, in the way their denim-clad forefathers did, and they seem like they actually read books—high-brow novels, history tomes, and the like. They use authentic instruments: vintage guitars and organs that make squeaky, clicky noises during the quiet songs. I’m a sucker for that stuff!

Overlooking the nonsense of critics and hipster kidz who feel the need to throw around the term electronics when discussing the band’s records, as if we’re living in the time of Thomas Edison and musicians are first experimenting with electricity, there are some things that gnaw at me as soon as I hit PLAY on any Wilco album. Primarily, I’m bugged by the fact that this band I should love is nothing more than a band I like. Even the songs I start out loving fade into the Like bin. There’s a sameness to the music of Wilco that too readily dictates which songs I’m going to like and which songs I’ll quickly skip.

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The songs I like are always the 1960s-cum-Replacements-cum-ELO 2-chord stomps with cool guitar and keyboard textures underpinning a deliberate bassline. Jeff Tweedy puts his reedy voice to best use on these numbers with lyrics about his downer-popping, screwed up, seemingly eternally recent past. The new album’s “I Might” and “Born Alone” each fit that bill. A few weeks ago, if you asked me whether I liked those songs I would have answered, “Are you kidding me? I love them!” Shoot, “I Might” even works in fuzz bass and glockenspeil. Rock nerds live for that stuff! If you ask me today, though, my enthusiasm would be tempered, thanks to the band’s other main song template.

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  10 Responses to “Wilco, Then and Now: The Whole Love

  1. I enjoyed this review and look forward to your other thoughts on Wilco, KingEd. I used to love this band, but we’ve grown apart. This album has a couple of good songs (“Art of Almost,” “I Might”), but a lot of boring stuff. I agree with you, the snoozy songs all pretty much blow.

  2. Happiness Stan

    I’ve always liked the idea of Wilco, but haven’t spent a lot of time with their records. Saw them quite a long time ago at Glastonbury, around the end of the 90s probably, just what was called for on a warm and mercifully dry afternoon. I always got the sense that they were a bit hit and miss. So which would be the entry album, and why? I’m prepared to give it a go.

  3. I love the concept of Wilco. And they seem like really nice guys. But while I enjoy a number of their songs, their music ultimately strikes me as being too boring. It’s high-quality modern rock by the numbers. There aren’t very many lyrics out of place, and the occasional out-of-place musical elements sound calculated.

    In the world of rock music, I don’t think it’s enough to be very good at what you. You’ve got to be a little off, or wild, or surprisingly new, or just plain brilliant to be interesting. I’m missing that with Wilco, but it’s not for a lack of trying (both by me and the band).

    Really they are just too earnest for me.

    • My favorite Wilco albums are not by Wilco per se: Loose Fur and the Glen Kotche solo album. I haven’t really heard the older stuff, though, but it all seems of-a-piece as I understand it, so it may not matter so much which one you start with.

      I do have a decent method for trying to answer your question applicable to any random band: if their first album is good for newbs, it’s probably their best album.

  4. cliff sovinsanity

    Thanks for the read, King Ed. I was going to submit a thread over the Christmas break describing my desire for Wilco (read Jeff Tweedy) to disband immediately and form a new band. Preferably with a co-writer/guitarist on par with Jay Bennett.
    See, I used to love Wilco big time. Of course, I preferred Tweedy’s material over Jay Farrar in Uncle Tupelo. The first 4 Wilco albums are treasures in my collection. But it all started to fall apart after I saw the movie I Am Trying To Break Your Heart. A statement was uttered that would forever sour me on Wilco. Actually it was Jay Bennett of all people who was describing the philosophy of the songs on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I’m paraphrasing but it went something like this
    “There our songs. We created them, so we can destroy them if we want to.”
    What! Screw that. I’m sorry, but not only is that pretentious it shows what a complete lack of respect Wilco(see Jeff Tweedy) has for their fans. I have never been able to warm up to anything that follows. The self indulgent A Ghost Is Born proves my point. The song are either overproduced or reduced to the shell of anything resembling soul or passion.
    Phew, I’m glad I got that off my chest.

  5. jeangray

    I enjoyed “Dawned on Me.” I read a review that compared that track to ELO, and the prospect of Wilco doing it’s take on Jeff Lynne intrigued me. I’m a sucker for that shit.

  6. I kind of agree with King Ed’s last point that if you let Wilco go for a bit and then put on the CDs, you appreciate them more.

    I just listend to A.M. the other day — I like Box Full of Letters and Passenger Side more today than I did it when the album came out. I liked Being There right out of the box, but I kind of ignored Summerteeth at first and now it’s close to the top of the stacks.

 
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