Preferential Treatment: Wilco

In Preferential Treatment, I take a band’s full-length albums and list them from least favorite to most favorite, with a bit of justifying commentary. I welcome your comments, whether they be disagreements or complete non-sequiters. (!) denotes an album that I consider a classic.

SUMMARY:

YHF > BT  > Stth > SBS > tWL > MA(W) > AM > AGiB > Wta

THE STORY SO FAR:

You don’t need me to tell you about Wilco, but here’s the breakdown: trailblazing folk-punk band (Uncle Tupelo) breaks up, budding songwriter (Jeff Tweedy) starts own band, creates incredible double LP (Being There), veers towards the avant-garde, creates masterpiece (YHF), band nearly falls apart, forms new outfit that may be the greatest live band of the new millenium (Wilco 2.0, my term), and keeps making great, if not classic, albums.

THE TREATMENT:


Wilco (The Album): I’ve commented elsewhere that the band’s eponymous seventh album seems like it’s played too fast, and I think that has something to do with making it Wilco’s most forgettable long player. It’s not that the songs are bad by any means, it’s just that that perfect sense of gravitas that provides an extra dimension for almost every other Wilco record is absent, and the songs here just seem to breeze by with nary a flutter. It’s a fairly intangible complaint, but I’ve seen Wilco live three times in the last several years, and they haven’t played one of the tunes here. If that doesn’t speak to how they feel about this set, then I don’t know what would. ("Wilco (the song)", "Deeper Down")

A Ghost Is Born: After 3 great albums and the dismissal of co-songwriter Jay Bennett (who did his fair share to make BT, Summerteeth, and YHF what they were), the odds for a four-peat weren’t in Tweedy’s favor. Ghost is a typical Wilco album: on one hand experimental, exploratory, and open-ended, on the other hand brimming with melody and a poet’s wit. In my opinion, the production seems a little sterile, and nothing confirms this better than the excellent live album Kicking Television that was released a year or two later, when Tweedy had filled out Wilco 2.0’s lineup. Songs that sounded a bit flat here sound alive and filled-out in a live setting. Not a bad record, but it is the sound of a band in flux, without a strong sense of where it is going. ("Muzzle of Bees", "Wishful Thinking")

AM: There was a time that AM seemed utterly forgettable, especially next to YHF or Summerteeth. It was never a bad record, it was just straight-forward and easily labeled as "mediocre". Being There always seemed like the band’s first major statement anyway. But time has been and continues to be kind to AM. It’s got that mid-90’s alt sound going, a bit of a generic mesh in terms of production, but the songs are remarkably strong power-pop affairs at root. As Wilco 2.0 has welcomed more and more of these tunes back into their setlists as regulars, things have come full circle, and AM cuts seem every bit at home alongside classics like "Via Chicago" and "Jesus etc." Absolutely worth revisiting if it’s been a while. ("I Must Be High", "I Thought I Held You")

Mermaid Avenue I/II/III: The Mermaid Avenue albums weren’t entirely Wilco affairs, but there’s enough that’s strictly Wilco between the three albums that you can consider their efforts as a standalone affair. Bragg generally gets top billing with these because of the more explicitly blue collar nature of his previous work, but Tweedy and the boyz deserve plenty of credit for setting Guthrie’s lyrics and musical vision in a more contemporary setting. And who can deny the greatness of Tweedy led numbers like "California Stars", "One By One", "Secret of the Sea", and even the silly "Hoodoo Voodoo"? There’s plenty to love among Wilco’s tracks, which are generally pensive, dreamy Americana at its finest. ("Hesitating Beauty", "When the Roses Bloom Again")

The Whole Love: This one is another grower. Although supported by fantastic bookends, don’t discount the slowly unfolding goodness of tracks 2 thru 11. "I Might" has a nice post-punk edge to it, and "Dawned On Me" and "Born Alone" are both understated but celebratory cuts that highlight the best about Wilco 2.0. The closer, "Sunday Morning", is a sublimely understated shuffler, and perhaps one of the greatest alt-country/folk-rock compositions of all time. ("Art of Almost", "Sunday Morning")

Sky Blue Sky: The first album featuring Wilco in its current and longest-lasting manifestation, it’s a grower. Tweedy’s songs are a bit more simple this time around, but this might be the first album where he sounds truly comfortable in his own skin, and thanks especially to the crack ensemble of Wilco 2.0 the results reveal themselves more wonderfully with repeated listens. It’s a pretty great nuanced guitar album, with standout "Impossible Germany" paying homage to both Television and Steely Dan (which – yes – might just be the most Dad-rock combination of all time). ("You Are My Face", "Leave My Like You Found Me")

Summerteeth (!): A radioactive power-pop detour before the descent into experimentalism, Summerteeth is Wilco at its catchiest. "Shot In The Arm" has, I think, been played in just about every Wilco concert since the record was released, but it’s the languid, lyrically dense "Via Chicago" that seems to define the wonder of this record. It can be overwrought at times, but how can you argue when repeated listens reward you with the glories of cuts like "When You Wake Up Feeling Old"? Sweet and savory, great for late night driving. ("Summerteeth", "I’m Always In Love")

Being There (!): Being There is the album that opened doors for Wilco, and the record where Tweedy overtook Farrar in the great post-Tupelo race for artistic cred. It’s a truly beautiful experience, an epic of devotion to middle America suburbia and 70’s rock mythos, a dreamed-out and completely personal concept album. At times starry-eyed and sentimental, at others an abandoned hard rocker, it’s a lovable mess, everything a double-album should be. Experimental alt-country before YHF was even a glimmer in someone’s eye. ("Far Far Away", "Sunken Treasure")

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (!): Welcome to earth. This is the Wilco record that changed alt-country forever. It was the record that turned me on to Wilco, and it was the record that made them the "American Radiohead" (even if that term doesn’t really fit all that well). Sure, there’s an epic back story associated with this album, from the label troubles to the exit of Ken Coomer and Jay Bennett, and a host of outtakes available for free, but the real triumph is the songwriting, pure and simple. The bells and whistles are a big help, but this one plays like a greatest hits record unto itself. Classified somewhere between Kid A and Rumours. ("War On War", "Poor Places")

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Initial Reactions (2012): Mermaid Avenue III, M. Ward, Sara Watkins

Initial Reactions are just that: my reactions to records after only a few listens (usually 2 or 3). I try to be fair, but if a record doesn’t make much of an initial impression on me, someone’s going to need to tell me to pay closer attention if they think it deserves better. (see the sidebar for rating descriptions)

Billy Bragg/Wilco – Mermaid Avenue III [B]: One last round for old times’ sake. Though not as great as the first, it beats the second for sure. The Tweedy-led tracks are real treats, reminiscent of the YHF demos. A few cuts could’ve used more work; otherwise, a delicious slice of dessert from one of the most fruitful experiments in rock and roll history. ("When the Roses Bloom Again", "Listening to the Wind That Blows")

M. Ward – Wasteland Companion [B+]: That distinctive voice inhabiting simple acoustic songs. Folk-ish with experimental tinges, i.e. the creepy howls of a desolate landscape in the title track, putting the emphasis on Ward’s mellow side. All in all, a strong record, one I’ll keep in rotation, and who knows what insights a few more spins might bring. Invites you to wander cautiously through the desolation.  ("The First Time I Ran Away", "A Wasteland Companion")

Sara Watkins – Sun Midnight Sun [A]: Well here’s a surprise. The opener’s distorted, hyperkinetic fiddling signals a musical shift, and gorgeous tunes get dressed up to launch this into ‘A’ territory. The centerpiece is the harrowing kiss-off "When It Pleases You.” Intense, beautiful, edgy, gorgeous, imaginative, interesting, and a major leap forward for a promising artist. In short, it’s everything I love about music. ("When It Pleases You", "Lock and Key")

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)

Quick Review (LP): The Whole Love by Wilco

Wilco
The Whole Love
dBPM; 2011

My Rating: B (66/100)

Best Tracks: "Art of Almost", "I Might", "Black Moon", "Born Alone", "One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)"

Wilco almost makes another great record.

TRACK NOTES

"Art of Almost" (4.5/5)

  • Probably their most obtuse cut since A Ghost Is Born, maybe even Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
  • Cool song, though unfortunately it’s not quite brilliant. Extra points for really trying though.
  • Also, as the opener, it doesn’t quite portend the overall sound of the record, which is really pretty conventional.

"I Might" (4.5/5)

  • Very nice poppy cut.
  • The organ reminds me of Elvis Costello’s early sound.
  • This is their best pure single since "Jesus, etc."

"Sunloathe" (4/5)

  • Reminds me of a Summerteeth rarity.
  • "Pieholden Suite", that’s what it reminds me of. It has that same vibe.
  • Very midwestern sound. The meandering piano work could’ve been sampled from "Dream On" or something.

"Dawned On Me" (3.5/5)

  • Hey, remember "You Never Know?"
  • OK, for someone who is such a completely off-kilter lyricist, I’m surprised at the fact that a cliché forms the basis for this song.
  • Nice performance otherwise.

"Black Moon" (4/5)

  • Smooth and mellow.
  • This actually sort of reminds me of their debut, but in a good way.
  • OK, as the somber tune of the bunch, me likey.

"Born Alone" (4.5/5)

  • Almost twee at first.
  • And then big ol’ distorted section blares in…
  • Brilliant lyrics. And I love the way the riff dissolves in dissonance at the end of each repetition.

"Open Mind" (4/5)

  • Hey, (it’s almost) alt-country!!!
  • This one’s swell and all. It’s sort of just a song…
  • Tweedy can write the pretty melodies, that’s fer sure.

"Capitol City" (3.5/5)

  • First we had a little Elvis Costello, now we’ve got a little P. Mac.
  • Tweedy said this one goes back to the Being There sessions. That’s a long time to sit on a track.
  • Fits right in with "Yellow Submarine", "Octopus’ Garden", etc.

"Standing O" (4/5)

  • Now this one REALLY emulates Elvis Costello.

"Rising Red Lung" (4/5)

  • Hushed.
  • The instrumentation reminds me a bit of Allman Brothers.

"Whole Love" (4/5)

  • Just what does this "Whole Love" look like?
  • I don’t know, but Jeff really wants to show it to us.

"One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)" (5/5)

  • Dear Wilco, More like this please. Love, Your Fans.
  • Seriously, this is the kind of thing that makes Wilco great.
  • This is their best closer, hands down, and probably in their top 10 cuts.

ALBUM NOTES

  • There are some brilliant moments here, and the album sports a great cover, but unfortunately I don’t think Wilco has hit their full potential with The Whole Love.
  • That being said, "One Sunday Morning" is absolutely fantastic. Probably one of the best tracks from anyone this year.
  • Wilco has, for the last 7 years, been perhaps the best live band anywhere. I wish they would let themselves go a bit on the epic, cosmically scoped rock Americana that they are so capable of. I think this version of the band has a Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in them somewhere, and I don’t think they’ve made it yet. Tweedy may be just a bit too self-satisfied at this point. Perhaps a little divine discontent is in order?
  • Still, all in all, The Whole Love will certainly keep me coming back for more Wilco. While it may not be their best yet (it’s definitely a step up from their last LP), it’s a solid record, and one I expect to listen to quite a bit more in the coming months.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (4/5)
Concept (4.5/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (3.5/5)
Songs (4.1/5)

Quick Review (LP): Wilco (the ablum) by Wilco

Wilco
Wilco (the album)
Nonesuch; 2009

My Rating: C+ (56/100)

Best Tracks: "Wilco (the song)", "Deeper Down", "You and I", "You Never Know", "I’ll Fight"

Apparently, this is Wilco.

TRACK NOTES

"Wilco (the song)"

  • Groovy riff.
  • "Put on your headphones/Before you exploh-oh-oh-oh-ode"
  • This one will put a smile on your face, as long as you don’t take it too seriously.

"Deeper Down"

  • Love the start/stop thing here.
  • Very creative tune. Understated, but highly enjoyable.
  • A great intricate guitar tune. It’s not "Impossible Germany", but it rides that wave.

"One Wing"

  • Good tune.
  • However, I feel like it could have been a bit beefier. Feels too featherweight.
  • It’s also too fast. SLOW DOWN!!!

"Bull Black Nova"

  • Reminiscent of "Spiders (Kidsmoke)", but a bit more traditional in structure.
  • Also reminiscent of "Impossible Germany", especially the breakdown in the middle.
  • The lyrics remind me of Poe’s "The Tell-Tale Heart."
  • Honestly, I’m not really sure whether I like this tune or not. I want to, but something feels a bit off about it.

"You and I"

  • Pretty n’ sweet.
  • Feist is enough to make any track enjoyable.
  • Sort of flutters by in an exceedingly pleasant way.

"You Never Know"

  • Gettin’ his George Harrison on.
  • Great single. Just a sunny, breezy power-pop tune.
  • Love those harmonies.

"Country Disappeared"

  • Another pretty tune.
  • "You’ve got the helicopters danglin’ to shoot you/The shots feed the angry news crew anchormen"
  • Pretty great lyrics on this one.

"Solitaire"

  • Nice slide work.
  • In the vein of tunes like "Please Be Patient With Me" and "Leave Me Like You Found Me."

"I’ll Fight"

  • The lyrics are comparing 2 people. It’s an interesting comparison. A song about the fortunate lives of some and the rough lives of others.
  • This one’s acutally one of my favorites from the record.

"Sonny Feeling"

  • This is a song about a person "splitting in two."
  • Interesting lyrics. Some of the lyrics make me think of a "Jeremy" type character.
  • The pun in the title is just kinda silly though.

"Everlasting Everything"

  • I feel about this one the same way I feel about "One Wing." Not enough gravitas and it feels rushed.
  • Decent tune, but the recording could have been better, and the performance could have been a bit slower.

ALBUM NOTES

  • Lyrics take center stage here. This is Tweedy’s most singer-songwriter album.
  • Very understated. This record is almost a polar opposite to the band’s early catalog.
  • Tweedy’s songs are always good. This set is a bit ho-hum though.
  • Here’s my write-up from shortly after the album’s release.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (4/5)
Concept (3/5)
Consequence (3.5/5)
Consistency (3.5/5)
Songs (4/5)

Quick Review (LP): Sky Blue Sky by Wilco

Wilco
Sky Blue Sky
Nonesuch; 2007

My Rating: A- (81/100)

Best Tracks: "You Are My Face", "Impossible Germany", "Side With The Seeds", "Please Be Patient With Me", "Leave Me (Like You Found Me)", "What Light"

Please be patient with this album.

TRACK NOTES

“Either Way”

  • Pretty. Love the strings.
  • "Maybe the sun will shine today…"
  • This one is more delicate than Wilco has perhaps ever been.

"You Are My Face"

  • Nice vocal harmonies.
  • Again, this one is delicate. A real change of pace going on.
  • The lyrics here are really interesting. Sonically, they are very musical in and of themselves. Some real verbal substance there as well though.

"Impossible Germany"

  • Amazing.
  • Television does soft rock. The tri-guitar interplay is fantastic.
  • This is what craftsmanship sounds like.
  • And what is the emotion here? Complicated.
  • Here’s my write-up of the track.

"Sky Blue Sky"

  • Tweedy sounds completely in tune with himself, comfortable in his own skin, maybe for the first time.
  • Hushed performance here. Reminds me a lot of the excellent "More Like The Moon" track.
  • "With a sky blue sky/This rotten time/Wouldn’t seem so bad to me now/Oh if I didn’t die/I should be satisfied I survived/It’s good enough for now."

"Side With The Seeds"

  • I wasn’t so sure about this one at first, but it has really grown on me.
  • This may be the liveliest track on the record.
  • Great guitar work from Nels Cline at the end.

"Shake It Off"

  • This one is a bit awkward, but I think it is meant to be.
  • What I mean is, the rhythm is a little stilted, the guitars sound a little off and un-melodic.
  • But I think it’s Tweedy’s communication of a sort of cloudy emotional state.

"Please Be Patient With Me"

  • Gorgeous tune.
  • Not a drum to be found.
  • This one reminds me of The Beatles’ quieter stuff. "I’m Only Sleeping", "Yesterday", etc.

"Hate It Here"

  • This one kind of reminds me of Big Star.
  • I’ve heard this one is supposed to be from his wife’s point of view.
  • I can see how this one would drive people crazy, especially with the direct lyrical approach.
  • That being said, I think there’s more going on here than at first glance.

"Leave Me (Like You Found Me)"

  • What does that piano line remind me of?
  • This one is another gorgeous soft rocker.
  • Nice bass work by Stirratt.

"Walken"

  • Strange spelling – is this song about Christopher Walken? It is sort of dancey.
  • "The more I think about it/The more I know it’s true!"
  • Sort of a goofy tune, but pretty catchy too.
  • They definitely sound like they are having a lot of fun.

"What Light"

  • Nice singalong-er. Almost a sweet drinking song quality to this one.
  • Overall, very simple, but also very appealling. Not a great Wilco track, but a good one.

"On and On and On"

  • This one seems to be a forgotten cut, but it’s really good.
  • Again, mellow, but packs a hefty emotional punch.
  • Nice way to end an album that has been a mix of light and dark.

ALBUM NOTES

  • Great cover image.
  • This album does very little to wow you. In my book, it’s all about the songwriting, the craftsmanship, the sort of patient consideration that requires a bit of thought about which note goes here, which lyric goes there, which instrument gets the emphasis on this or that passage, and how each track precisely fits together.
  • At the same time, there is an intuitive feeling to this album. It’s a bit paradoxical, but I get the sense that Tweedy loved this incarnation of the band and wanted to simply capture what they sounded like at that point in time.
  • One thing I love: there is this incredible 70’s classic rock vibe to the album. It’s really in Tweedy’s songwriting DNA. You can hear it in pretty much everything he does if you listen close enough.
  • All in all, after a 3 album experimental run, this is Wilco settling back into songwriting for songwriting’s sake. The results are frequently breathtaking.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

Quick Review (LP): A Ghost Is Born by Wilco

Wilco
A Ghost Is Born
Nonesuch; 2004

My Rating: B- (64/100)

Best Tracks: "Hell Is Chrome", "Spiders (Kidsmoke)", "Muzzle of Bees", "Wishful Thinking", "Company In My Back", "The Late Greats"

Wilco’s "modern art" record.

TRACK NOTES

"At Least That’s What You Said"

  • A lot of restraint here.
  • Very Neil Young-ish feel.
  • Tweedy’s guitar solo is a "musical transcription" of a panic attack.
  • Overall, nice switch from soft and delicate to full out classic rock assault.

"Hell Is Chrome"

  • "When the devil came/He was not red/He was chrome and he said/’Come with me’"
  • Love the lyrics on this one.
  • Again, a little restraint goes a pretty long way here.

"Spiders (Kidsmoke)"

  • KRAUT-ROCK!!!
  • As much as I like this track, it’s always hard not to think "OK, let’s just go ahead and hurry up that part where they rock out."
  • Around 6 minutes it starts to get really great. The lyrics get interesting, the guitars get aggressive, and stuff starts coming in from all over the place.

”Muzzle of Bees”

  • This is one of the best on the album.
  • The way the track builds – that’s great.
  • It’s really very lovely and subdued.

"Hummingbird"

  • Great lyrics on this one.
  • But…the way the song ends bugs me a bit.
  • Overall, it’s a changeup for the band, and mostly a success.
  • But…not a resounding one.

”Handshake Drugs”

  • I’ve always preferred the version on the More Like The Moon EP. This one is too refined or something.
  • Actually, the live version on KT is better as well. Nels’ guitar work is spot on there.
  • Still, great song pretty much any way you slice it.

"Wishful Thinking"

  • Another great. This one is really about the musical atmosphere.
  • Great drum work by Kotche.

”Company In My Back”

  • It’s funny, I listen to a lot of these songs now and they sound a bit empty without Nels’ crazy guitar fills.
  • This one’s good, and it got better in later live performances.

”I’m A Wheel”

  • Sort of stupid.
  • I’m sure it’s really clever on some level I don’t understand.

”Theologians”

  • This is an interesting track. Never loved it, but Tweedy’s lyrics are definitely thought-provoking.
  • I like the way he quotes Christ from the Gospel of John. Not sure what to make of it though.

”Less Than You Think”

  • So obviously this one is a drag.
  • But…consider what Tweedy has to say about it and why he thinks it fits into the album.
  • Even as I review it, I’m thinking, "Am I really going to listen to all 11 minutes of this drone?"
  • The answer: "Not today, junior."

”The Late Greats”

  • Love this one.
  • Tweedy really understands what it’s like to be a rabid rock and roll fanboy and a hopeless dreamer.
  • I have so many "late greats" in my life of music listening. Rodan, Month of Sundays, Crain, among many others.

ALBUM NOTES

  • This is Wilco’s most transitional record. There lineup was still in-flux with Jorgensen being added and Bach leaving shortly after the completion of the record.
  • I gotta admit, I hate the production on this record. It’s a huge drawback for me. Sounds sort of stuffy.
  • Tweedy is too cool to reach, but it almost feels like he is doing the "anti-reach" here. I don’t think he had a clear sense of direction at the time, and his response was just to put together some tunes that said "I know what I’m doing." This is the anti-Jay Bennett record, though not in any vengeful or bitter sense. It’s simply sounds like Tweedy did everything in his power to avoid making these songs poppy.
  • Visually captivating cover. Not crazy about it, but it grabs you in a minimalist sort of way.

ATTRIBUTES

Cohesion (4/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (3.5/5)
Consistency (3.5/5)
Songs (4/5)

Quick Review (LP): Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco

Wilco
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Nonesuch; 2002

My Rating: A (88/100)

Best Tracks: "I am trying to break your heart", "Kamera", "War On War", "Jesus, etc.", "I’m the Man Who Loves You", "Poor Places"

Cosmic American Music goes through the looking glass.

TRACK NOTES

  • "I am trying to break your heart"
    • This is what happens when you take a simple folk song, deconstruct it, and throw everything at it including the kitchen sink.
    • "I am an American aquarium drinker/I assassin down the avenue" – I’ve got no idea what that means, but I love the way it sounds.
    • It sounds so simple, but as Tweedy has aged, his brilliance has consisted partly in the simplicity of his songs.
  • "Kamera"
    • The song that is, to me, the definition of "Dad Rock" for the new generation.
    • Love the Steely Dan vibe.
    • Power through restraint. Love the sonic flourishes in this tune.
    • Also, it’s great how the "Tell them I’m lost" bit gets juxtaposed against the basic melody.
  • "Radio Cure"
    • This is THE deconstructed song of the record. If you listen to the original version (I believe it was called "Corduroy Cutoff Girl") it was much poppier.
    • "Distance has no way of making love understandable" is the central theme.
    • I’m not a big fan of this song. A bit of a distraction in my book.
    • Anyway, check out "Corduroy Cutoff Girl." It’s an interesting study in how a track can change in production.
  • "War On War"
    • Hot damn, this is one catchy tune.
    • This is the type of song that you hear for the first time and immediately want to hear more from where it came from. So great.
    • "You’re gonna lose/You have to lose/You have to learn how to die/If you wanna wanna stay alive"
    • It’s an entirely new take on Parsons’ Cosmic American Music.
  • "Jesus, etc."
    • Beautiful.
    • "You were right about the stars/Each one is a setting sun"
    • "Tall buildings shake/Voices escape singing sad sad songs/Tuned to chords/Strung down your cheeks/Bitter melodies/Turning your orbit around"
    • Those lyrics, coming on the heels of 9/11 (actually before), are spine-tingling in a prophetic sort of way. This was the song that year.
    • Easily one of the greatest pop songs ever.
  • "Ashes of American Flags"
    • Again, love the lyrics here.
    • "All my lies are always wishes/I know I would die if I could come back new"
    • That slightly distorted guitar riff that sort of flares in owns this tune and really holds it together.
  • "Heavy Metal Drummer"
    • Poppy, almost to the point of being asinine. Gotta admit, though, I dig it.
    • "I miss the innocence I’ve known/Playing KISS covers/Beautiful and stoned"
    • Bleepity bloopity bleep.
  • "I’m the Man Who Loves You"
    • Another amazingly catchy tune.
    • It feels like Tweedy is riding a wave through this record, lyrically and musically.
    • Bennett did his fair share here, didn’t he?
    • The horns at the end are key.
  • "Pot Kettle Black"
    • This one doesn’t get top billing, but it’s strong enough.
    • Similar feel to "Kamera."
    • Dig the guitar fills on this one.
  • "Poor Places"
    • This one’s a centerpiece. Fairly deconstructed, but comes out on the other end of that process even better than before.
    • Listen to this version against the original (demo) mix.
    • Love the way the noise and the lyrics play against each other.
    • Gorgeous melody here.
    • The ending is brilliant to the point of being glorious.
      • “Reservations”
        • I like this tune, but always felt like it could have been a little more resounding.
        • Then again, perhaps a little more flourish would have been too over the top for this record?
        • That chorus is doggone lovely.
        • What is that distant organ thing at the end?
        • That creaking noise at the end is a nice touch.

ALBUM NOTES

  • Imposing album cover. It just grabs you. Those towers look like giant electrical transistors or something.
  • Noise all over the place in general. This is a fun record for headphones. It sounds very liveable, like they didn’t worry too much about the perfect take.
  • Fabulous concept. The impact of distance upon communication in general and love in particular. This record covers a lot of emotional ground but stays on subject pretty well.
  • I’m not crazy about a few of the tunes (mostly "Radio Cure"), but even that one holds together well with the rest, and is pretty pivotal in terms of concept.
  • This one may have a sensational back story (see the film, it’s a winner), but the great thing is that the music doesn’t rely on any of that.
  • This was the last album with Bennett. While Wilco changed drastically after his departure, they have managed to find their way ahead. He certainly left his mark though. Regardless of how JT and JB felt about each other, they made a great musical team.
  • Ken Coomer got the axe too. Apparently his drumming was too inflexible.
  • You’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t download the demos right now.
  • All in all, one thing is for certain. If you are a dude named “Jay”, then stay the hell away from Jeff Tweedy.

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

Quick Review (LP): Summerteeth by Wilco

Wilco
Summerteeth
Reprise; 1999

My Rating: A (86/100)

Best Tracks: "Shot In The Arm", "I’m Always In Love", "How To Fight Loneliness", "Via Chicago", "When You Wake Up Feeling Old", "Summerteeth", "In A Future Age"

Fractured folk and power pop hybrid – “summer here and summer over there.”

TRACK NOTES

  • You know what "Can’t Stand It" reminds me of? "You’re So Vain." Cool tune though, poppy as a hell, a great jumping off point.
  • "She’s A Jar" is the first of the record’s slower, abstract folk numbers. Tweedy’s in abstract poetry mode there.
  • "Shot In The Arm" is still a live favorite of the band. It’s a really cool, spacey, Neu!-ish tune. Great lyrics.
  • "What you once were isn’t what you wanna be/Anymore!"
  • "We’re Just Friends" is a personal favorite. Sort of reminds me of Randy Newman.
  • Same with "Always In Love." I love how big it is as a power-pop song. Tweedy sounds like he’s coming off the rails.
  • "Nothing’severgonnastandinmywayagain" is cute, but it’s a bit annoying too. I’ll take it though.
  • "Pieholden Suite" may not be one of the better tracks here, but it sort of points toward the band’s more experimental/fragmented approach on later records.
  • "How To Fight Loneliness" is a gorgeous little acoustic strummer. Great instrumentation.
  • "Via Chicago" is another tune that points toward Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Brilliant in every way.
  • "I dreamed about killing you again last night/And it felt alright to me" – that is so great.
  • "ELT" is cool, but sort of drags in the middle and pails in comparison to some of the other power pop numbers herein.
  • I just don’t care much for "My Darling."
  • I love "When You Wake Up Feeling Old." It’s one of my all-time Wilco favorites. It almost sounds like something Chicago would’ve recorded in collaboration with The Beach Boys.
  • The title track features some great lead guitar work. It’s a nice combo of the record’s two sides.
  • "In A Future Age" is similar to "Via Chicago". Perhaps not as dark, but equally great. Love the piano work there.
  • Imagine The Beach Boys of the mid-60’s forming a band with Alex Chilton and Chris Bell in the early 70’s and you pretty much have the magnificent "Candyfloss."

ALBUM NOTES

  • Great late night driving album. Amazingly good for top of the lung singalongs in order to stay awake.
  • This album, more than any other, strikes me as a partnership between Tweedy and Bennett. Bennett really exerted his "throw everything at it" production mindset with Summerteeth.
  • There are two sides to this album: a sunny, power pop side where the upbeat tunes foil Tweedy’s utterly miserable disposition at the time and the understated, experimental folk side where fractured but gorgeous tunes pass the time and Tweedy crafts some amazingly adventurous lyrics.
  • I compare this one to Radiohead’s OK Computer. Not quite as experimental as it seemed when it first came out, but it serves as a turning point for the band and the record when people really started to take notice.
  • Given the two faces of the album (power pop/fractured folk), I’m starting to sense some of the brilliance of the record.
  • When it all comes down to it, this album contains about 10 or 11 amazing songs, and while many are unpolished, there is an open-ended feel to everything here that makes it very listenable.
  • The definition of “summerteeth” according to the Urban Dictionary. I’m thinking this refers to the fact that the album contains both light and dark songs. It could also refer to the way the lyrics are really biting at times. Also, Tweedy has a thing for interesting words as well, and I think that factors in.
  • Always thought that moon image was a captivating cover.

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

Quick Review (LP): Being There by Wilco

Wilco
Being There
Reprise; 1996

My Rating: A (86/100)

Best Tracks: "Misunderstood", "Far, Far Away", "Monday", "Outtasite", "Forget the Flowers", "What’s the World Got In Store", "Say You Miss Me", "Sunken Treasure"

Power-pop + Art-punk + Cosmic Americana + Epic country = Classic LP

NOTES

  • "Misunderstood" is the height of transcendence. Brilliant in every conceivable way.
  • First you have those lyrics. ("When you’re back in your old neighborhood/Cigarettes taste so good/But you’re so misunderstood/So misunderstood…")
  • Then the instrumentation. The way different instruments carry the tune by themselves at different times.
  • And Tweedy sounds completely lovesick over rock and roll.
  • "Far, Far Away" is transporting. THAT’s cosmic american music right there. That’s what I think of.
  • "I long to hold you in my arms and sway/Kiss and ride on the CTA"
  • "Monday" sounds like the fusion of Big Star and Grand Funk Railroad. Power pop glory. Love the horns. Brilliant.
  • "Outtasite (Outta Mind)" is a second power pop gem. These guys sound like they are having a blast. Sounds Petty-ish.
  • "Forget the Flowers" is a cool little truck stop country tune. It’s unassuming, but it’s a winner.
  • "Red-Eyed and Blue" is the sort of off-kilter experiment that makes this album so special. Sleigh bells and whistles!
  • "I Got You" is good power-pop, though not as great as tracks 3 and 4.
  • "What’s the World Got In Store" is a personal favorite. Gonna request it when I see them live in a few months.
  • "Hotel Arizona" is a bit of a joke by title alone, but in all reality it’s a pretty cool rock song.
  • What does "Say You Miss Me" remind me of? It’s those background vocals. Fantastic groover regardless.
  • "Sunken Treasure" is one of their greats. "I am so out of tune with you…"
  • "Someday Soon" is another brilliant slice of roadhouse country.
  • "Outta Mind (Outta Sight)" is an unncessary aberration on an otherwise brilliant album.
  • I think of Dylan on "Someone Else’s Song." Nice accordion in the background.
  • "Kingpin" is too jammy. In my opinion, filler, though I guess it’s a bit of a highlight live.
  • I like the feel of "Was I In Your Dreams." Sort of woozy, a drunken, lovesick singalong perhaps?
  • "Why Would You Wanna Live" is fairly forgettable. Belongs toward the end of the record.
  • "The Lonely 1" may be kind of pitiful, but it’s gorgeous as well. Reminds me of the film Almost Famous. I love to think of a young kid looking up to his rock star hero.
  • "Dreamer In My Dreams" never really does anything for me. I know they were trying to go for that Stones thing, and it works nice enough on the album, but overall, it’s subpar Wilco. (Is it anything more than a fractured rip-off of "Honky Tonk Women"?)
  • Supposedly based on a film of the same name. Even sounds faintly cinematic.
  • Interesting recording process for this record. Each song was rehearsed, recorded, and mixed on its own day.
  • Apparently 30 songs were recorded. Deluxe edition, anyone?
  • Love the simplicity of the album cover and artwork in general. The album concept is reinforced by the shots of the band in the studio. As for the album cover, nothing really says “being there” in rock and roll like the hand on the guitar. Understated, but appropriate and, to a degree, brilliant.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Songs (4.5/5)