Every Friday until June 26th, Hightower and Jones will review an album from Wilco's catalog to celebrate Wilco's seventh studio release, Wilco (The Album) (in stores June 30th). Thanks to Nicki at Hey! Look Behind You! for the idea and on that note, let's begin the journey with...
Wilco's debut is a very good, albeit, safe introduction to their sound.
The history is known that after singer/guitarist Jay Farrar left the critically acclaimed Uncle Tupelo, guitarist Jeff Tweedy along with remaining members John Stiratt (bass), Max Johnston (Dobro, banjo, etc.) and Ken Coomer (drums) formed their own band, Wilco thus beginning an Alternative Country version of the Megadeth and Metallica feud. By March 1995, Wilco had their first album in stores.
A.M. is a very straightforward introductory album. It keeps close to the sound and scene from which the album came from. The guitars are twangy, the dobro and banjo resonate throughout the songs, and, to be honest, every song sounds like it was recorded in the mid-90's. This isn't to say that the album isn't a good album. It's just a very safe album.
The songwriting is good and there are a couple of numbers ("Casino Queen," "Pick Up The Change," "Box Full Of Letters") that rank among some of Wilco's best songs. The instrumentation is sharp whereas every note has a purpose and there is little to no filler on each of the tracks. Instead of using Johnston to layer multiple instruments on the tracks, he provides a simple texture to the songs by choosing fiddle over mandolin or banjo over dobro. These things help to make it a good album.
These are all good things but, as a whole, the album is simply a mid-90's rock album. Those elements help the record stand out just enough to make you curious but not enough to declare that this is the greatest album ever or of that year. This is, essentially, Wilco's version of Radiohead's Pablo Honey. A record designed to introduce a new band but in no possible way does it indicate what this band would be capable of later on (especially on both of their sophomore albums).
Thanks to Uncle Tupelo, Wilco already had a fan base established so it's easy to understand why Tweedy didn't make a different album. An album that would separated the new band from their previous band and help establish their own sound. It's smart move and with the band barely being around for a year, it was a good move to stay in familiar territory. Familiarity, however, does not create outside interest nor does it generate sales, both of which this album experienced a lack of.
Despite it's safeness, A.M. is a good debut album and, in all honesty, the place in which you should begin your journey with Wilco. Listen to the album after any albums following it and you'll see where it all began but it'll make very little sense as to how this band went from being a small Alt-Country band to being a well respected, experimental Rock band. Join Hightower and Jones next Friday as the sophomore, double album masterpiece, Being There, is reviewed.
"Pick Up The Change"
"Box Full Of Letters"
"Shouldn't Be Ashamed"
Purchase A.M. here and check out the demos here.