Somehow, this (most grotesquely) complimentary (of) review(s) of the new Wilco alb gets straight to the heart of why I am in no rush whatsoever to hear it.
Their latest, Wilco (The Album), thankfully finds Jeff Tweedy out of his hammock and feeling both musically restless and playful, and the band doing its best to stir things up a bit more. What it doesn’t find, however, is much sense of edge or the band wandering into uncomfortable territory – this isn’t because they’re not adventurous or are sticking to the tried and true, but because they’re just too good. Tracks like “Bull Black Nova” may want to sound unhinged, with its insistent drone and Tweedy’s rasping scream, but there’s never a sense that Wilco are in anything less than complete control. The songwriting on Wilco (The Album) delivers more emotional range than the genial sentiments of Sky Blue Sky and while the musical accompaniment soars and swoops alongside it, even occasionally squalling, it’s too confident to even consider the possibility of crashing. Not that you necessarily want things to fall apart, but that potential for self-destruction is a fundamental part of rock’n’roll.
On the other hand, Wilco have nearly self-destructed enough in their history and there’ll never be a shortage of bands out there that sound on the verge of collapse, either in a good sense or not. Their current stability is well-earned and deserved, and when they use it to deliver records as out and out enjoyable at this, complaining is just pointless. Consider the duet between Tweedy and Leslie Feist on “You And I” – when initially announced, many believed it would be the final step in Wilco’s transformation into MOR balladeers. And while it’s certainly not going to scare anyone away, the final tune is so well-crafted and just outright lovely, that it transcends any sort of cliche. It may seem a bit much to suggest that Wilco can do no wrong – the very fact that they can’t is a sort of flaw unto itself – but it’s certainly no mistake to say that they’re doing a hell of a lot right.
Even if that last coupla sentences is “true,” it makes me want to throw up butter-chunks on my wrist… But I don’t hold Wilco accountable for the cultural situation in which they have come to sound “too good” for their own good. And I’m sure they are still, uh, killing it live.