Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wilco (The Review)

I first discovered Jeff Tweedy way back in the mid-90s, after picking up a copy of Anodyne, the virtually perfect album by alt-country godfathers Uncle Tupelo. I had no idea that the group had already broken up and formed two equally important bands, Son Volt and Wilco. I remember a lot of acrimonious debate over which group would carry the alt-country banner, but after hearing each band's debut album (Son Volt's Trace and Wilco's A.M.), I didn't much care. In my book, both efforts were rock solid then, and they still sound every bit as good today.

But then something happened. Son Volt drifted into repetitive mediocrity, and Wilco got increasingly weirder. Being There was definitely a departure from their roots, but it was still a great effort. Mermaid Avenue felt mostly like a dalliance to me, but every group is entitled to one of those, I supposed. Summerteeth was a bit spacier, but still poppy and approachable. Mermaid II was totally forgettable, and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot careened between dissonant ear-bleeding chords and pointless, self-indulgent noodling. After a sample listening of A Ghost Is Born, I parted ways with Tweedy & Co.

Jeff Tweedy as brooding, egotistical savant is well documented, so there's no point in going into it here. But last Sunday, I read Timothy Finn's well-written feature on Wilco, and I got excited about today's new effort, Wilco (The Album).

Thankfully, and somewhat surprisingly, I'm not disappointed. Wilco is fun again! It starts off amusingly, with the curiously titled "Wilco (the song)." What other band can you name that has there own theme song? The Monkees? No matter... it works, and works well. Then there's "You Never Know," a charming, happy song that's also a dead ringer for George Harrison's My Sweet Lord. (I can almost hear it playing over KRGI-AM in Dad's Buick Skylark in the mid-70s.) And "Sonny Feeling" fits the tried-and-true Wilco formula -- frame some angst and dread in an upbeat, toe-tapping melody.
It feels good to be a Wilco fan again.

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