Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Wilco, Sky Blue Sky

Unless your idea of fun is a Hootie and the Blowfish dress-up party, I strongly suggest flushing two Sky Blue Sky tracks ('I Hate it Here' and 'Walken') down the toilet. It’s rare for me to have such an astringent reaction to two numbers, but seriously these songs make me violently ill and threaten to disrupt what is otherwise a fine collection of pearls, ten in total, perhaps Wilco’s prettiest set to date.

Since bringing outlaw country to late-80s suburbia (via Uncle Tupelo, a Wilco pre-cursor), Wilco has mastered many styles rooted in Americana: country, rock, pop, light stuff, dark stuff, classic jams, futuristic jams, and so on. They started out simple, but by their last effort, 2004’s A Ghost is Born, they were turning feral and goddamn if it wasn’t totally exciting. Sky Blue Sky is a stark contrast; its antithesis. They sound tamed and sober. They’ve gone from loud back to quiet, serving up a downbeat sound well-suited to bar closing time. Nice and smooth 70’s soft rock with the occasional dippy lyric. “You feel like singing a song you want other people to sing along/ then just sing what you feel and don’t let anyone say it’s wrong,” sings Tweedy, soporifically summing up the modus operandi. There’s only been a handful of Wilco lyrics that have meant something to me beyond the song and it was mainly stuff off Being There — a good manual for being back in your old neighbourhood and taking up smoking. Subsequent Jeff Tweedy-penned numbers I could appreciate for their cool imagery, but mostly I liked Jeff’s flow (the band has always been good). But when the lyrics lose their ambiguity, you start to notice it, and when it becomes too obvious, or lame (e.g. 'Hate it Here' and 'Walken'), you feel like you’ve been sodomised by one of the Blowfish at a backyard barbecue over a round of Rolling Rock.

The rest of Sky Blue Sky may require a few dates before she loosens up. Guitarist Nels Cline, expected to break all kinds of masturbation records here, shows admirable Tantric restraint. His guitar playing is wonderful and the anonymous sidemen apply pleasant piano, organ and lap steel effects to the cosy surrounds. Cut the crap and it’s a pretty sweet album. Sky Blue Sky has its moment, and it's mostly a mellow one, but a moment it is nevertheless and what else do we have these days, but moments.

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