Boomkat Product Review:
Would it be too bold a statement to suggest that Wilco might be the best American band of the past ten years? In Yankee Hotel Foxtrot they've definitely got a realistic contender for album of the noughties (don't you just hate that word? Sorry about that), and since 1999's Summerteeth the Chicago band have been on a creative roll that found sublime songwriting from Jeff Tweedy and sparring partner Jay Bennett (RIP) jostling with an increasingly experimental mindset. After Bennett's departure, A Ghost Is Born infused Neu! influences and even greater depths of electronic exploration (including 'Less Than You Think', a fifteen minute experiment that Tweedy himself billed as "the track everyone will hate"), before another shift in personnel brought ace guitarist Nels Cline into the fold, a move that coloured much of 2007's Sky Blue Sky - a more traditional rock record that was strewn with complex guitar parts and extended soloing. This new long-player strips back some of the more protracted instrumental interludes but continues to embrace a confidently vintage, classic rock aesthetic, relying perhaps more than ever on Tweedy's skills as a writer, which seem to sharpen with every album. What better way to kick off Wilco (The Album) than with 'Wilco (The Song)', a disarmingly brilliant declaration of affections for the listener, reassuring you that through the hardest times, "Wilco will love you, baby", all set to a musical accompaniment that bears some resemblance to Warren Zevon's 'Werewolves Of London'. After this riotous beginning, 'Deeper Down' is a slightly more experimental, baroque composition, the like of which might not have been too out of place on Mercury Rev's Deserter's Songs, but the tremulous bowed saw playing of that record is here substituted with some otherworldly ebowed slide guitar. Offering a bit of a mini-anthem, the band progress to 'One Wing', a real heartbreaker of a song about separation that's low on schmaltz but still manages to resound as casually epic: "One wing will never fly, dear/Neither Yours Nor Mine, I fear/We can only wave goodbye". A stretch of dirging darkness ('Bull Black Nova') adds some grit with a wholly unexpected post-murder clean-up narrative set to a suitably ominous musical backdrop. There's a return to a lighter, more positive sentiment for the blissful 'You And I' in which Tweedy duets with Feist, and subsequently the 'My Sweet Lord'-alike 'You Never Know', which boasts some of the best harmonies this side of an Abba record. Even when the band strip down to a whisper, as on 'Solitaire', they still manage to sound imperious, situating Tweedy's beautiful central performance somewhere between the double-tracked understatement of Elliott Smith and Nick Drake circa 'Northern Sky'. At no point during this album could you really determine any sort of dip in quality or form; Wilco (The Album) is the work of a veteran group of musicians at the absolute pinnacle of their powers, no longer with anything to prove as might have been the case on YHF or A Ghost Is Born, instead you just get better songwriting and musicianship (not to mention recording quality) than you'd probably find anywhere else at this point in time. Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors and Animal Collective are the American bands who'll lead the headlines in 2009, but not one of them can pull off the kind of unimpeachably classic manoeuvres this band can.