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). With all formalities out of the way, let continue with...
Wilco's fifth album continues where Yankee Hotel Foxtrot left off without the help of Jay Bennett and brings them a Grammy. Not bad for an album where two songs account for 25 minutes of the running time.
Several years occurred since Jeff Tweedy last wrote the majority of a Wilco album. Also, in this time, his songwriting partnership with guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett provided the band two well-received and respected albums. In Bennett, he also had a lead guitarist that could play anything thrown at him with skill instead of flashiness. Without Bennett's contributions, it would be easy to wonder where the band would go musically. They continued on the same path, just a stranger variation of it.
For the first time in the band's history, Tweedy assumed the position of lead guitarist. This led to some interesting solos as exampled on "At Least That's What You Said." Tweedy used his influences (Television and various punk bands) to create his solo performances on the album. To say the least, some of them are filled with chaos and distortion but weave their way into the song perfectly to the point where it would be hard to imagine the song without them.
As for the album itself, it is filled with great songs with semi-cryptic lyrics and beautiful melodies like the one on "Company In My Back." Other times, Wilco invokes the sound of 70's era Art and Punk bands as on "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" and "I'm A Wheel." The former being a 10-minute plus number that slowly builds with synths, keyboards and drums before hearing about spiders, beaches in Michigan and tax returns. This goes on a couple of minutes with weird guitar noodling between the verses. Even while this is happening, the guitar continues to build the song up until the band unleashes a very catchy, head nodding piece of music. The latter is basically a Punk song is very similar to another song left of the album ("Kicking Television") and showcases Tweedy's influences and love of the music he heard growing up.
Another sprawling piece is the 15-minute "Less Than You Think." This is a song that is fine the first time you hear it and would be fine in a concert setting but beyond that, it's a very gratuitous song where each of the members of the band writes their own synthesizer part and it feels like it will never end. The problem with this song is that it is sandwiched between two really good songs ("Theologians," "The Late Greats") and it feels more like a closer to an album than the next to last track. If this were a Fantomas or Melvins album, I'd be fine with a 15 minute droning song. Since it is not, it is a track that can be very hard to sit through beyond the initial listen.
I would like to say that this the first Wilco album without any drama surrounding it but it is not. That album would come next. This album like every other Wilco album (except for the new one) has a different lineup thus giving it a different feel to the overall album and to a degree keeping it separate from the previous albums. Of course, this album was met with some difficulty as it was delayed for a few weeks due to Tweedy entering rehab for an addiction to painkillers and shortly after the release, multi-instrumentalist Leroy Bach left the band to join a theater group. The only benefit from this is that Wilco then found its most stable lineup to date with additions of keyboardist Mikael Jorgenson (who joined before the album's recording and co-wrote three songs on it), multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone and lead guitarist/legend Nels Cline. To hear this lineup tackle these songs is an absolute delight.
This album is essentially a variation of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. That's definitely not a bad thing as the previous album was a very enjoyable listen as is this album. It would've been better to hear them go in a completely different direction and, in a way, they did. With Tweedy as lead guitarist and the departure of Bennett's presence, it brought forth a different dynamic to the band and to this album. It's an album to definitely check if you're a new fan or just slightly curious. Join Hightower And Jones next week, when Wilco ditches the experimental sounds of the previous two albums in favor of something more stripped down and, in a way, more confusing than this album with Sky Blue Sky.
"At Least That's What You Said"
"Muzzle Of Bees"
"Company In My Back"
Buy A Ghost Is Born here.