Wilco (The Review)
Colin Rich | Monday, August 31, 2009
America’s current mainstream musical landscape reflects an impermanence best characterized by single-saturated playlists and a hype-ridden media that often fawn over “the next great thing.”
Today’s pubescent pop is tomorrow’s Vh1 series (I couldn’t help double-taking after stumbling upon “I Love the New Millennium” last week). Getting to the top proves relatively easy when compared with staying on top, and staying power requires a loyal fan base as well as a freshening musical malleability.
Wilco possesses both of these. Their ability to ground their music in a part-rock, part-folk ether draws fans from both realms and provides the band musical license to explore an expansive stylistic range. Perhaps this lends insight into the band’s alternative magnetism.
There is something so innately clear-cut about the impressionist harmonies of Wilco – a countryside simplicity underpinning a genre-defying expression. Similar to their Midwestern roots, Wilco exists as a crossroads for the band’s far-reaching influences, ranging from The Band to Brian Wilson to John Coltrane. Beginning with “A.M.” in 1995, Wilco’s previous works explore outward from this confluence down avenues of pop, country, and folk depending on the album (some came to label the band indie over that time as well). Yet to this day their musical peregrinations never stray too far from the harmonic niche Wilco began carving for themselves 15 years ago.
As Jeff Tweedy and Co. saddle up to bring us to “Wilco (The Album),” their self-titled and seventh studio album, one would expect a deeply introspective (perhaps retrospective) work from a band many consider a plinth in the terrain of American alternative rock.
Yet against this billing “Wilco (The Album)” falls flat. The album begins to compel on the noteworthy third track “Bull Black Nova,” a rhythmic and repetitive rock dissonance that juggles a variety of strings and serves as an almost certain jam-platform for live gigs. Tweedy’s recognizably soft rasp plays beautifully alongside Feist’s melodic guest vocals on “You and I,” a gentle swansong about two people trying to save their relationship. The pulsing heart of the album, this sweeping serenade precedes “You Never Know,” a jukebox-ready, Petty-esque single infused with resounding piano and acoustic Americana. Wilco hits a final high with a sophisticated pop turn on “Sonny Feeling,” a steady, foot-stomping finale laced with Wilco’s effervescent country twang.
Unfortunately “Wilco (The Album)” tells us little about Wilco (The Band). Few if any bands possess Wilco’s home-style sound, and for a man whose ability to musically emulate the modern American heartland rivals that of Bruce Springsteen, Tweedy sounds downright bored this time around.
Wilco deserves acknowledgement for their ability to stay influential and interesting in a mainstream that associates youth with commercial viability. However, unlike much of the Wilco arsenal, this album strikes with the force of a beanbag relative to the band’s historically expectation-matching blows. Wilco lacks a passionate foothold from which to make its stand, and though the band’s faithful will most certainly download in droves for this latest work, an enthusiastic revisit a year from now will be rare.
On to the next great thing, Vh1.