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CD Review: Wilco, “Wilco (The Album)”

Wilco (the album)Wilco has reached that point in their career when it becomes trendy for the hipster brigade to slag each new release as “not as good as (fill in album name here).” That’s a shame, because the Chicago-based band is making some of their best music these days. Led by the irrepressible Jeff Tweedy, and featuring the off-the-charts guitar work of modern master Nels Cline, this Wilco lineup, together for five years now, finds the band at their musical peak.

One thing that a creative artist learns early on is that you’re not going to be able to please everyone all the time. There were those who found the Wilco masterpiece Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and its successor, A Ghost Is Born, too experimental for their tastes. The band seemed to react to that by releasing the fairly straightforward Sky Blue Sky in 2007. That one was deemed to be too bland, and the nostalgia merchants began to call for a return to the glorious days of Summerteeth. No doubt we’ll see a similar reaction if Radiohead ever returns to the more easily digestible sound of their OK Computer era.

If Wilco (The Album) (Nonesuch) doesn’t please the entire fanbase it won’t be surprising, but it will be pretty damned unfair. For what we have here is an album that is a nearly perfect fusion of Wilco’s experimental bent, and Tweedy’s straightforward Americana songwriting style, and, I might add, these are some of Tweedy’s finest songs ever. He’s unafraid to let his influences show, and as a result we get takes on Talking Heads, the Beatles, and the Motown sound. Producer Jim Scott rejoined the band for this effort, and the recording is first rate. All of this adds up to what may be the finest Wilco album since, well…since always. There, I said it.

“Bull Black Nova” is the song that harkens back to the most intense Fear of Music era Talking Heads. It’s a dark tale of homicide, driven by Mike Jorgensen’s insistent piano, and Cline’s probing guitar lines. It’s Wilco at their out there best. On the other side of the coin, there’s the soulful “You Never Know”. The opening sequence will put you right in your Motown place, but then along comes the chorus, and suddenly you’re in George Harrison territory, complete with Beatles-like vocal harmonies, and twinned slide guitar lines ala “My Sweet Lord.” Elsewhere, there’s a lovely duet with Leslie Feist on “You and I”, and the Wilco (The Album) opening song is the charming tribute to the fans “Wilco (The Song).”

“Is someone twisting a knife in your back,
Are you being attacked,
Oh, this is a fact,
That you need to know,
Oh, oh, oh, oh Wilco,
Wilco will love you Baby.”

So, you can believe that Wilco (The Album) isn’t as good as (fill in album name here), but you risk missing out on one of the year’s best albums. One day you’ll want to say that you were on this one early. So climb aboard. Wilco will love you, baby.