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.
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.