Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A quieter, tamer Wilco--not quite

Like a good Wilco-obsessed geek, I ran out to pick up my copy of Sky Blue Sky today. It was, of course, not the first time I'd heard the album. In fact, a copy hacked from the streamed album has been on my iPod for a couple of months now. That's the important disclaimer.

I really haven't spent much time with the album over those couple of months. First off, my iPod listening rarely tends to be album-based. More than that, however, was the fact that the album really hadn't grabbed me yet.

My early reactions were that it was good, more song-driven, quieter in some ways, and far less filled with ambient experiments. Unfortunately, there also wasn't anything that really grabbed me. Take any of their previous albums, and there is always one song that just turns the album from good to necessary. On Summerteeth, it was "Via Chicago" or "Shot in the Arm." On YHF, it was the opening track and every one after that. The other albums all have their standouts, too.

What I hadn't realized until today--and the third time around on the disc--is how cohesive the new album is. The songs are tight and clean. Tweedy's phrasing is as good as ever. More than that, the remarkable talent on all ends of the band seems to have coalesced into a real, solid entity. Cline's guitar balances Kotche's percussion. Tweedy and Stirrat seem to be having fun. Jorgensen and Sansone are messing around with keyboard and random instrumental lines in ways that work to build the songs rather than tearing down all the walls.

I'll leave the in-depth dissection of the tracks themselves to real critics.

I remember, as I listen to this album, seeing the band a little over a year ago. They looked like they were having fun on stage. That's a necessity, of course, but it was even clearer when they tested one of the tracks from this album--"Walken." The song brought out into an honest-to-god blues-rock jam. It wasn't precious. It wasn't clean. It was rock-and-roll, and that may be why the new album feels like a great album from a great band.