CD Review: Wilco, "Wilco (The Album)"

Categories: CD Review
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I love going out to eat, especially at a restaurant that's a little pricier; one that has so many good choices that to choose is agonizing.  Your plate arrives and the excitement causes you to perhaps eat it too quickly, requiring you to take home the remnants, hoping to savor them again the next day. After refrigeration, the congealing of juices and a necessary reheating, your favorite plate of food becomes mediocre, requiring some extra salt and pepper, only a shadow of what it once was.

To equate Wilco's new album, literally entitled Wilco (The Album), to the same fate as a reheated plate of food might be a bit harsh. Yet today it appears that Wilco has become a band that's content with recollecting. One that has been there and now feel that it's ok to put out an album that's a little less inspired.

Ever since their second album Being There was released in 1996, Wilco have prided themselves in keeping their fans and critics guessing, putting forth a different sound with each new release. One could even argue that each of their last five studio albums have proven to be more intricate and diverse than it's predecessor.

Those days are over.

Wilco (The Album) is a bore. If you're a fan you're probably going to buy it anyway, and you should.  In some ways it does feel like a suitable follow up to the Nels Cline-laden riffs of their last album, Sky Blue Sky, but it also sounds like a reheated cup of coffee.  It gives you a nice buzz, but there's no taste or flavor left.

The lead track "Wilco (The song)" as well as the first single, "You Never Know," sound like classic Wilco and are refreshing.  The former of the two has a great rollicking and rambling stomp to it, similar to the Velvet Underground's "I'm Waiting for the Man," replete with a jouncing organ, wailing guitars and thrumming drums -- a great jolt of energy to open the album. The latter has the same energy of "Casino Queen" from their first album A.M., featuring some great piano work from Mikael Jorgenson, yet its generic alt-country sound of 12 years ago and drab lyrics spoil it.  "Come on children / you're acting like children / every generation thinks it's the end of the world."  Children acting like Children?  Go figure Jeff.

"Deeper Down," the album's second track, is one of the few really interesting tracks, featuring Tweedy's warm timbered vocals, stop/start verses and a soothing slide steel.  Another strong track because it feels right; it's not too long or meandering and showcases how simple songwriting can win out over sheer force.  

Also of note is "Bull Black Nova," a song that's the direct offspring of "Spiders (Kidsmoke)."  A steady beat, abrasive guitars and a crescendo that never really peaks make it a curiously intense listen, but it could also drive you insane after five and a half minutes of it grating your brain.
 
I'd be remiss not to mention the beautiful song "You and I," the duet Tweedy does with Feist.  But really, this is a Wilco song?  It's nice and all, but I've heard this country duet thing before and wouldn't be surprised to see it backing an iPod or Volkswagen commercial in the near future.

Surely there are a few other highlights on the album, such as the dynamic "Solitare," a song that relies too much upon Tweedy's duplicated vocal, but the rest of the album has settled into an eerily adult-alternative vibe that's too soothing, too often feeling content with convention.

Nels Cline is 53, John Stiratt and Jeff Tweedy are 42, and their music has now begun to age with them. After pushing the limits of imaginative energy with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born, it now feels like they're okay with a generic version of Wilco; the Alt-country-rock sound of A.M. and Being There, put through a Sky Blue Sky sieve.

It's not bad, just a little cold and tasting like a lesser version of last night's dinner.

We've come to expect more.

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