Tormented themes and a troubled past are light work for a band back to their best
Dabbling in dark subject matter is difficult, but Wilco have got it sussed. From lost love and self-doubt to depression and death, Jeff Tweedy and his band manage to straddle the whole spectrum of sad without resorting to any of the usual painfully predictable theatrical angst or whinnying ‘woe is me’ delivery. In fact, in this lot’s case, it’s all done rather breezily and driven by the kind of off-kilter melody-penning that keeps you coming back to their songs time and time again.
Admittedly, since they got together following the break-up of Tweedy’s
old band Uncle Tupelo in the mid-’90s, the Chicago outfit have trodden a precarious path; numerous line-up changes, painkiller addictions and record label squabbles (as documented in Sam Jones’ memorable film I Am Trying To Break Your Heart) threatened to kill Wilco off completely. But in ‘Summerteeth’ and ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ they were responsible for creating two of alt.country’s finest ever releases – and now we can count ‘Wilco (The Album)’ as a late third addition to their list of masterpieces, finding the band sounding fresh, revitalised and hitting a creative peak once more.
Their underwhelming last effort, ‘Sky Blue Sky’, seemed to hint frontman Tweedy had done away with his punchy pop tendencies for good, but they’re back with a vengeance here as epic, crunchy riff-propelled singalongs sit nicely next to sweet, stripped-down ballads. Weighty themes such
as disillusionment, martyrdom and murder are also dealt with ever-so poetically on their seventh record, along with romance and humour
– it’s not all bleak – and it’s precisely Tweedy’s deft turn of phrase throughout that makes ‘Wilco (The Album)’ such a necessary listen.
Whether it’s the panic rising to a ferocious climax in rhythmic lynchpin ‘Bull Black Nova’ or the sighs and swoons of the beautiful Feist duet ‘You And I’, the band have covered all bases this time; pushing themselves to experiment while still celebrating what makes their music so catchy and compelling. Quite a feat.
Click here to get your copy of Wilco’s ‘Wilco (The Album)’ from the Rough Trade shop