Wilco’s ‘Wilco (The Album)’ Track-By-Track Review

Tweedy uploaded it, The Quietus reviews it. Mark Mitchell lends an ear to Wilco's new album, Wilco (The Album)

‘Wilco (The Song)’

Wilco do the Velvets while simultaneously joining that yet-to-be-coined collective noun of artists who’ve penned songs sharing their moniker. Madness and Motorhead will no doubt be making space at their table. Back in the musical sphere, this may be the most hooky track Wilco have done in a long, long time. In fact it could actually become quite annoyingly catchy; it’s good. Come the middle eight we’re introduced to bells and choirs. On paper that’s just a plain atrocity but it works in spades, and we’re back to Wilco circa NYC 1973. A fine, fine opening.

‘Deeper Down’

In Wilco time, nothing but nothing gets rushed. Whilst the listener is still in a sonic honeymoon period with this record, the band are off deep into 18th century chamber party rock odyssey. Harpsichord and… Lord knows how Nels Cline is pulling those sounds from his guitar. Then we’re suddenly taken to some kind of industrial-age steam-powered factory as backing for the next verse before returning to the playful precision of something that wouldn’t have sounded hat out of place on a Left Banke album. Mind boggling, and we’re just starting to settle in here…

‘One Wing’

Dynamics. That was, for me, the over-riding theme of Wilco’s last album Sky Blue Sky, which some derided for its simplicity and seeming lack of depth. This too is deceptively subtle, but all the more valuable and rewarding for it in the long term. No individual part is overplayed, nor is it battered to an inch of its life as so much, as is the wont of the, excuse me, ‘alt-rock’ artiste. The playing allows tone and timbre come to the fore. Ultimately this track soars way beyond its initial suggestion. After a minute or two Nels Cline steps into take control and beneath a flighty chorus we’re off on what initially appears to be a deft solo, but becomes the basis for the rest of the track. When it comes to a halt, a few minutes too early for my liking, it leaves you realising how deceiving Wilco can be.

‘Bull Black Nova’

Forth track in and we’re in our forth genre… Syncopated krautrock rhythm with atonal keyboards in a similar vein to ‘Kidsmoke(Spiders)’ from A Ghost Is Born. Lyrically Tweedy is at his most oblique with barely fathomable narratives of silhouettes and bloodied furniture. Four minutes in a Weather Report-esque jazz breakdown is followed by a serrated twin guitar solo, and certainly not in a Thin Lizzy way. Before long it has picked up so much momentum it feels like one of Wilco’s harshest pieces to date.

‘You And I’

Acoustic Tweedy-rock in its purest form. Whispered vocal. Hugely intimate. “You and I, we might be strangers. However close we get sometimes it’s like we never met”. After a female vocal joins in, the rest of the band saunter in three quarters of the way through the first verse and suddenly we could be on side two of the first Eagles album – it really is that ‘lite’.

‘You Never Know’

This track could easily be a partner piece to ‘I Got You (At The End of the Century)’ from Being There. Huge swathes of Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty-esque college FM rock rule the roost and it could actually be July 1974 for all suggestion here. The chorus line of ‘I Don’t Care Anymore’ is so hugely unaggressive you wonder if it even matters. Then, just when you think it couldn’t get any more AOR a guitar steal with a massive nod to George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ floats into view. Check those writer’s credits!

‘Country Disappeared’

Back to close mic whisperings and gentle harmonies. A truly tender and vulnerable track with little power and it’s all the more appealing because of it. They sound so truly relaxed that when a tiny piano trill comes into the break it sounds perfectly placed as opposed to contrived and cliched. Totally timeless and classic sounding, I really can’t think of any other contemporary act who’d record a track as un-egotistical and seductive as this.

‘Solitaire ‘

Fingerpicked acoustic and Rhodes with volume pedalled guitar. It’s enough to sedate. “Once my life was a game so unfair it beat me down and kept me there” – you get a feeling that Tweedy really has had an epiphany of sorts. Was it the painkillers or the realisation that he was comfortable being Jeff Tweedy? Tortured artist or now escaped ex-prisoner? God knows but I do know that we’re on our forth ‘mellow’ track and as beautiful as they are, and they certainly are, any chance of y’know guys, picking this up a little?

‘I’ll Fight’

And so as if by magic they hurl themselves into a arse blistering cover of ‘I’ll Fight’ by late 80s US metal punksters Lethal Aggression… Except they don’t. They do pick the pace up a touch and sure the lyric is somewhat more direct and aggressive than the past 15 or so minutes but the Rhodes and chopped rhythm guitar create possibly the most basic and naked tracks on the album. Chorus’ sway, acoustics are picked, a false ending and then a refrain of the main theme and we’re out of here. But hang on what’s that last line "I’ll die alone like Jesus on the cross…" oh Christ is that the fundamentalists on t’blower?

‘Sonny Feeling’

Maybe it’s exaggerated by the "I was on my way home" line but there can be no more Big Star sounding track in existence, other than those by Big Star themselves. Pure mid 70s head-nodding, hip-swinging grown up and indulgently clever pop-rock. The massed “Sonny Feeling is taken away” chorus, and let’s not let that cowbell go un-noticed, sounds like a band having fun. The Feeling could perform this one, which begs the question of why Wilco can get away with it without a hint of curled toe or tongue in cheek? Overall, though, I’m going to struggle with this one.

‘Everlasting Everything’

This is where Wilco really get to cut their particular brand of intelligent mustard. What appears to be a slightly austere, yet hopeful, elementary missive can go one of two ways. Does it stay acoustic and stark and possibly somewhere down the line given something of a mild twist? Or if dealt a spot of the imagination we know Wilco are capable of, within 90 seconds we could have military pressed snares, (more) tubular bells and then full orchestral sweeps punctuating the toplines; a veritable flotilla of musical galleons navigated by outlandish sonic pirates with too much talent on their hands, or to put it in the words of Quietus editor John Doran’s words, "a madman’s breakfast’. The reality of ‘Everlasting Everything’ is actually entirely unobtrusive, painlessly uncomplicated and perfectly song-based. And then that’s it. It’s over and we’re left staring at the cover wondering what the fuck that’s all about…

Personally I can’t remember ever feeling the same about any Wilco album a couple of months after the first experience. For instance 2007’s Sky Blue Sky seemed so short of my own expectations that I felt annoyed I’d have to wait another two years for the next one. But it was seeing those songs live and building a relationship with the them over repeated plays that has turned it into my favourite Wilco album to date. Only time will tell how Wilco will reveal itself . What’s clearly evident is that seamless and effortless leaps between genre and style mask the fact that the wealth of variety and diversion in this one album puts the vast majority of their contemporaries in the shade. Sure, there’s a recognisable motif that connects everything here, but it’s not a ‘sonic’ or genre-based theme. Instead the thread is that of a band seemingly increasing in confidence to produce something hugely rich, deeply luxurious and ultimately enormously generous.

Listen to Wilco (The Album)

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