Quick Review (LP): Mermaid Avenue I by Wilco (+ Billy Bragg)


Wilco (+ Billy Bragg)
Mermaid Avenue I
Elektra; 1998

My Rating: A- (82/100)

Best Tracks: “Walt Whitman’s Niece”, “California Stars”, “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key”, “Birds and Ships”, “At My Window Sad and Lonely”, “Hesitating Beauty”

Waking the dead: questionable alt-country concept goes right.

TRACK NOTES

"Walt Whitman’s Niece" (4.5/5)

  • Raucous and joyful.
  • Love the bar room sing a long.
  • “Last night or the night before that/I’ll not say which night…”

"California Stars" (5/5)

  • Classic.
  • Brilliant.
  • You can just hear Woody’s soul coming through in the lyrics here.
  • Always thought the lyrics had a sarcastic edge to them though.
  • By the way, newbies, this is alt-country. Now go lay down in an open field on a clear summer night and take in the cosmos.

"Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key" (5/5)

  • So beautiful.
  • Natalie Merchant’s vocals are key here.
  • Great fiddle work.

"Birds and Ships" (5/5)

  • This is just one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard.
  • Nobody could’ve done it like Natalie.

"Hoodoo Voodoo" (4.5/5)

  • I’m pretty sure this is the riff from "Lady Madonna." But that’s OK. This tune still rules.
  • So goofy, so fun.
  • Great performance by the band. It’s all about the cowbell.

"She Came Along To Me" (4/5)

  • "The women are equal/And they may be ahead of the men"
  • Nice slide riff.
  • Pretty cool tune, though it could’ve used a stronger hook.

"At My Window Sad and Lonely" (4.5/5)

  • Another gorgeous tear-jerker.
  • You can hear a lot of Bennett’s influence on this one.

"Ingrid Bergman" (3.5/5)

  • Woody think Ingrid Bergman pretty.
  • WG missed his calling as a copywriter for Viagra.

"Christ for President" (2/5)

  • Dumb.
  • Stupid.
  • Er, worthless.
  • All of the above.

"I Guess I Planted" (3.5/5)

  • Forgettable.
  • Still, there’s sort of a swagger, and a bit of catchy melody.

"One By One" (5/5)

  • Another beautiful track with Tweedy at the front.
  • Really wondrous. This is a "soul shining" type of track. Just gorgeous.

"Eisler on the Go" (4.5/5)

  • The Eisler story is here.
  • Good Bragg track. 
  • Very evocative. The tune matches the lyrics well. A bit despondent.

"Hesitating Beauty" (4.5/5)

  • Great lyrics, great tune.
  • I love this one. Classic Wilco.

"Another Man’s Done Gone" (4.5/5)

  • Grand piano and Tweedy go really well together. See "Venus Stopped the Train" or "Cars Can’t Escape." He should do it more often.
  • Doesn’t sound like a Guthrie tune here, but I ain’t complaining.
  • Muy bueno.

"The Unwelcome Guest" (4.5/5)

  • The boys ride off into the sunset on this one. Nice touch.

ALBUM NOTES

  • Well, this isn’t exactly a Wilco album, since Billy Bragg composed about half of the tunes, and the lyrics are all the doing of Woody Guthrie. What would Wilco be, however, without classics like "California Stars", "At My Window Sad and Lonely", and "One By One" in their repertoire? There is plenty of essential Wilco here, and quite honestly, this album as a whole is simply wonderful.
  • In terms of consequence, Mermaid Avenue wins on 2 levels. First of all, it cemented Wilco as alt-country heroes following Being There just in time for them to start getting all experimental. Second of all, it confirmed the continuity of the non-Nashville country sound with old school Americana.
  • All in all, it’s not perfect, but it’s excellent. If they’d trimmed some of the fat here and added a few of the choice cuts from Volume 2 ("Airline to Heaven", "Secret of the Sea") they might have had a masterpiece. Still, I’m not complaining one bit.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (4.5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Consistency (4.5/5)
Songs (4.3/5)

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