Wednesday, July 25, 2007

On Wilco

If you are regular reader, you probably noticed that I’ve been uncharacteristically silent on Wilco these days. With all the hubbub surrounding the release of Sky Blue Sky in April and the recent skirmish over the Volkswagen commercials, it seemed redundant for me to chime in then. Now that things have settled down, let me weigh in with a few thoughts.

The album is refreshing. After the complexity of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born, the simplicity of Sky Blue Sky is welcome. In some ways, it’s like the Dead’s American Beauty, a mellow affair that followed the chaos of Anthem of the Sun and Aoxomoxoa. The subdued playing and Tweedy’s plaintive vocals really shine, and Nels Cline’s guitar work soars throughout the record. Others have commented on the ‘California’ sound of this record. I think it was EW who called it the ‘best record the Eagles never made.’ That doesn’t sound like a compliment to me, although they liked the record. I hear Randy Newman more than Don Henley. Overall, Sky Blue Sky is soothing, like a mid 70's Dead album, and it gets better each time I listen to it. True , there is nothing on here that equals the brilliance of their previous two releases, but there's also not 10 minutes of low feedback to end the album either.

It is precisely this comfortable sound that lends itself so well as a backdrop to a series of VW television ads that are currently running. Last year I lambasted John Mellencamp for his irritating ‘Our Country’ tune for Chevy. Now here is one of my favorite bands doing nearly the same thing. Nearly. While I’d prefer if it I wasn’t hearing Wilco in a TV commercial, I know that the music was not written for the ad. Tweedy defended the move, saying that they are only trying to reach a larger audience, and they honestly like the VW product line. To me, it seems Our Country was written for the truck commercial, with the hopes that it would help boost record sales (it didn’t work; sales of Mellencamp’s last record were dismal). I know that this is a fine line between the two, but I can tolerate Wilco’s decision, for the time being.

I’m looking forward to Wilco’s September show in Grant Park. The new music may not be as dynamic as their recent efforts, and the live show may suffer a bit as a result, but Wilco is still one of the best live acts going these days, and I’m expecting great things. As an added bonus, the opening act will by Dr. Dog, a Philly band that I raved about earlier this year.

Listen to The Thanks I Get (left off Sky Blue Sky and now used to sell the VW). Just hover over the album cover and press play. Cheers.



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