The Austin Chronicle

Phases & Stages

Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, July 3, 2009, Music


Wilco (the album) (Nonesuch)

The Beatles' White Album and Metallica's black blockbuster included – and countless eponymous albums and songs in between – self-titled discs telegraph both a certain absence of inspiration (a name for the work) and either obstinacy or hubris in its creators eschewing the need for a brand regardless of the effort's quality. All three characteristics mark Wilco's seventh studio LP, Wilco (the album), the latter two par for the course, and artistic stimulus still something of a slippery slope in the continuing wake of the Chicagoans' recorded peak, 2002's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Successive 2004 haunt A Ghost Is Born remains somewhat analogous to Radiohead's Kid A, more extension than reinvention but still face lift enough that its spin-off, Sky Blue Sky (2007), gets relegated to Amnesiac status. Sky Blue Sky, with its landlocked paucity of material, didn't want to be another guitar-lined Ghost, but given "Impossible Germany" probably should have been. Wilco (the album) resets the sextet back to pre-Foxtrot pop while furthering Americana avant-gardist Jeff Tweedy's Radiohead-like melodic sophistication. What it lacks in identity, perhaps a statement of purpose locked down by a title, the tightly produced, musically pointed Wilco compensates for in near-total coalescence. Its hope, vulnerability, and fears converse as one Tweedy. For all its eye-rolling use of the group's name as lyrical hook, opener "Wilco (the song)" provides its stated "sonic shoulder to cry on" as the album's obvious anthem, Nels Cline's road-burn guitar flare cutting the song's analog chug. Ephemeral follow-up "Deeper Down" cobbles together bits and pieces of stained-glass 1960s precociousness on the order of the Zombies even as subtle stunner "One Wing" takes flight next as a far stronger outgrowth of its predecessor's suitelike approach to melody. That Wilco's prerequisite stretch into atonality, the neurotic fidget of "Bull Black Nova," whose percussive keys recall Ghost highlight "Spiders (Kidsmoke)," seals the first third of the album with uncertainty is one of its few flaws. Fortunately, sweetly simple midpoint "You and I" brings the whole endeavor into hard focus, particularly as the Summerteeth Beatles-esque of "You Never Know" and its "Glass Onion" start-up combined with George Harrison "My Sweet Lord" guitar swoop buttresses it. Soft acoustic jiggle and gauzy slide on "Solitaire" caps both with an intimate acknowledgement that "I was wrong to believe in me only." Clustered lyrical loop "I'll Fight" then commits to one of the album's sharpest hooks. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers-ish "Sonny Feeling" and final "A Day in the Life" piano press of closer "Everlasting Everything" – 88 keys here are Ghost's six strings – bring Wilco's best CD since Foxtrot to a typically bittersweet Tweedy conclusion: Wilco, group, song, and (the album) – for better or worse – may be all we have.


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