critic’s pick 78

wilco (the album)

wilco (the album)

You could have fun all summer long just with the titles to Wilco’s seventh studio album, especially seeing how the leadoff track of Wilco (the album) is Wilco (the song). Both are about as whimsical as Jeff Tweedy and company are likely to get on a recording. Luckily, the music inside is just as inviting and summery.

It could be argued that Wilco (the album) is the band’s first record that doesn’t take a defining step forward. As usual, it wraps itself around Tweedy’s alternately sleepy, wide-eyed and demonstrative singing. Just as predictably, the music still revels in allowing an attractive pop melody to melt and morph before our ears. And when the music even begins to suggest static frustration, Tweedy marches out his two prime aces in the hole: guitarist Nels Cline and drummer (and University of Kentucky graduate) Glenn Kotche.

Cut in three sessions – the first and third being held in the band’s Chicago digs while the second took place at Neil Finn’s studio in Auckland, New Zealand (following collaborations with the Crowded House chieftain’s 7 Worlds Collide project) – Wilco (the album) bears a temperament similar to 2007’s Sky Blue Sky with melodies that are light and lyrics that suggest the same but usually veer off into darkness.

Deeper Down, for instance, dances between vintage Brit pop and psychedelia. Chiming guitars mimic harpsichords as assorted, distorted ambience rumbles in the background. It’s kind of like hearing Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd in a Merseybeat mood. It’s a fun, summery listen, for sure. But, as always, there is restlessness in Tweedy’s hushed singing, especially in the way the lyrics parallel plumbing the depths of one’s psyche to the way a prizefighter is stalked for a knockout punch.

You Never Know, though, is something of a pop smorgasbord. Where do we start with on this one? The China Grove-style piano pounding? The George Harrison-like guitar flourishes? How about the lyrical devices Tweedy employs both as a scolding in the first verse (“C’mon children, you’re acting like children”) and as a lunatic sing-a-long chorus of “I don’t care anymore” that ups the danger element in this solid, summer pop.

Lyrically, the skies darken on Country Disappeared and especially during the romantic detachment of One Wing. The former is played essentially straight with echoes of vintage, mid-tempo pop-soul. But One Wing brings Cline and Kotche to the forefront with punctuated rhythms that jump start and cruise under Tweedy’s vocal despondency. Cline’s arsenal of squalls, twang and string tricks are artfully let loose from there.

Finally – well, actually, firstly, since its kicks off Wilco (the album) – we have Wilco (the song), which sounds like the coltish offspring of David Bowie’s Heroes with a hearty guitar hum and grand vocal hooks. And let’s not forget the chorus: “Wilco will love ‘ya, baby.” Eat your heart out, Telly Savalas.

There are also sonic textures throughout Wilco (the album) suggesting the layered, late ‘60s turns Brian Wilson fashioned for the Beach Boys that underscore the record’s prime selling point: that Wilco (the album) is, at heart, a masterful summer listen.

Now if Wilco (the album) would only incite Wilco (the band) to play Wilco (the song) on Wilco (the tour). Maybe that might even bring Tweedy, Cline, Kotche and the gang back to Lexington (the city). That would sure make me (the critic) one happy fellow.

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