If there were ever any concerns that- given the introverted contents of their previous three records- Wilco (the band) and by extension Jeff Tweedy, took themselves too seriously, they should be laid to rest upon seeing the cover art. The excellent first track destroys any lingering doubts, with the upbeat chorus of “Wilco will love you, baby!” It’s great lighthearted, self-referential, and self-deprecating songwriting, analyzing what Wilco has meant to its fans in the past, and where the band will go in the future.
Wilco has for me always been challenging listening, requiring repeated listens to discover the many layers of melody and meaning present in their best songs. Wilco (the album) is a grower in the classic sense; after the much more straightforward, laid-back, and accessible sound of Sky Blue Sky, the band has returned some dissonant teeth to its music. The songs on a whole have more bite to them, and require more exacting listening. But it was still a record that I was able to play for my 70s soft-rock loving parents, which says a lot about the pleasant tonal qualities of the record. It manages to accomplish a tricky balancing act; it is both a layered, avant-garde, challenging listen, as well as being a beautifully composed and polished album.
Wilco (the album) doesn't have the frenetic 10 minute guitar freakouts of A Ghost is Born, or even as much of the stratospheric soloing of my guitar god Nels Cline as on Sky Blue Sky. That's not to say there aren't echos of past work: Country Dissapeared channels some of the lyrical themes present on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and most reminded me of the classic song Jesus Etc. The lyrics to Everlasting Everything reflect the themes of death and ultimate acceptance that underlie many of Sky Blue Sky’s songs. And with a consistent lineup finally taking shape, the band is the tightest and strongest it has ever been. When they’re good, they are really damn good- just listen to the arrangement on One Wing- the buildup to the climax kills me every time.