Free from the constraints of a supposedly all-lit lit-blog, here I go with some reflections on music. (I’m allowed – there’s a category for it, see?) Internets, ho!
Pitchfork has a pretty clear-eyed look at Wilco’s new album. The whole thing should be read for the full effect, but here’s the money shot:
Jeff Tweedy’s restlessness has always been one of his greatest strengths. Since Wilco’s inception more than a decade ago, his willingness to explore an ever-widening spectrum of sounds and genres, and to keep the revolving door of the band’s line-up well-oiled, has paid off in a discography that’s as diverse as it is indispensable. Though his songwriting DNA was bound tight during the later days of Uncle Tupelo, Tweedy has nurtured it in different ways with each successive album, from the transitional sunset country-rock of the first two, through the keyboard-thick pop of Summerteeth, the fractured deconstructions of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and the languid abstractions of A Ghost Is Born. Following that last record, Wilco swelled to its largest and (according to Tweedy himself) best lineup ever, with the addition of guitar hero Nels Cline and utilityman Pat Sansone. Charged up and bursting with eccentric and experimental talent, Wilco Mk. 5 seemed poised to generate the band’s finest– or at least most interesting– music yet. Instead, it produced Sky Blue Sky.
An album of unapologetic straightforwardness, Sky Blue Sky nakedly exposes the dad-rock gene Wilco has always carried but courageously attempted to disguise. Never has the band sounded more passive, from the direct and domestic nature of Tweedy’s lyrics, to the soft-rock-plus-solos format (already hinted at on Ghost’s “At Least That’s What You Said” and “Hell Is Chrome”) that most of its songs adhere to. The lackluster spirit even pervades the song titles: “Shake It Off” is probably most accurate (not to mention the album’s worst track), but “On and On and On” and “Please Be Patient With Me” are both strong alternatives.
I agree with this assessment. I’ve listened to this album a whole bunch, with pretty mixed results. “Either Way” and “You Are My Face”, early pre-released tracks, are solid; the latter more so, with some fine singing from Tweedy. “Either Way” is unoffensive, and dad-rock sums it up nicely. (Sums up the whole album nicely. Being a Dad, this is appealing at times; I do like the mellow. Have you heard Neil Young Live at Massey Hall? You should. At other times, Tweedy for fuck’s sake I get a whole lot of being a dad when the kid needs to be carried downstairs at 3 am for a pee break, can I please rock out in my truck a bit, thanks) From there, the album goes completely off the tracks with the horrid “Impossible Germany”. Sorry, that isn’t a good guitar solo. Not at all. “Sky Blue Sky” and “Side with the Seeds” are very nice. “Shake It Off” – god, I want to like it, I want to imagine them wailing on it live, but it just won’t gel. “Please Be Patient with Me” is ok, but Tweedy solo is better for this track. Same with “Walken”, which is pretty bad – I saw one review declaring it to sound just like ZZ Top, which couldn’t be too much more wrong.
“Hate it Here” sucks.
“Leave Me Like You Found Me” seems to be holding up the best under repeated listens. (“Please Be Patient with Me” sounded like I’d heard it 3,000 times the fourth time I heard it. This is not good.) “What Light” is good enough, as is the closer. But as a whole, the album is sub-par Wilco. Comparisons to The Band are legion for this album, but there’s enough rootsy Band-ish tracks on their other albums for you to burn onto one CD that really deserve the comparison. The gentle-Tweedy tracks on this album have too much cliche to them; there are no rockers, no “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” anywhere near this album. And why did they exclude the mighty fine “Is That the Thanks I Get?”
For all my grousing, the album is not destined for the dustbin; some music you need to let soak into you over time. I hope this is the case here. If not, well, pass the Summerteeth.