WILCO > Sky Blue Sky

A new Wilco album.  And so I must take off my reviewer hat, and put on my fan-boy t-shirt, for you see, Wilco is my favorite band.  Or they were.  Or they are.  It’s unclear.  Is Wilco even Wilco any more?  Lead singer, songwriter and head visionary Jeff Tweedy has done his best to blur the lines of what kind of music the band makes-every new album is a rejection of their past and a declaration of their freaky new future. Label: NONESUCH
Rating: ★★★★☆

A new Wilco album.  And so I must take off my reviewer hat, and put on my fan-boy t-shirt, for you see, Wilco is my favorite band.  Or they were.  Or they are.  It’s unclear.  Is Wilco even Wilco any more?  Lead singer, songwriter and head visionary Jeff Tweedy has done his best to blur the lines of what kind of music the band makes-every new album is a rejection of their past and a declaration of their freaky new future.  Having dispensed of dual drummers, two multi-instrumentalists and one mad genius producer (bassist John Stiratt remains a constant), Tweedy has surrounded himself with a coterie of forward-thinking employees. Sky Blue Sky is the first Wilco record to feature the revamped line-up of guitarist Nels Cline, keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen and musical jack-of-all-trades, Pat Sansone.

After the difficult birth of 2004’s A Ghost Is Born, a record that asserted its independence from tonality with a 15-minute noise collage, Sky Blue Sky is a far more amiable, easy going affair.  In fact, it’s the first Wilco album since Being There that seems to be in a reasonably good mood.

The first song, “Either Way,” is a surprise right out of the gate. It’s as lyrically straightforward as can be. “Maybe you still love me, maybe you don’t,” sings Tweedy, possibly addressing his band’s growing fan base. By track two, “You Are My Face,” he’s back to the abstract in a big way, singing nonsense that makes pretty good sense, emotionally.  Tweedy retains a fondness for the poetry of everyday things, and images of nature like “the currency of leaves.” “Impossible Germany,” which might be a sneaky zen rewrite of “Jesus Etc.,” is one of several songs that finds the band jamming out like the Allman Brothers, had the Allman Brothers been extremely sensitive singer/songwriters.

A small hurricane of guitar blows sideways through “Side With the Seeds,” as Cline busts out his signature hummingbird riffs.  “Leave Me Like You Found Me” is a novelty-it sounds straight off of A.M., with a Yankee Hotel Foxtrot arrangement.  Simple and haunting, it could be an Uncle Tupelo song dressed in drag.

The band seems to be enjoying themselves within the shifting math rock of “Shake it Off,” and the ‘70s r&b toss-off “Hate it Here,” which boasts a chord progression that echoes George Harrison’s “Isn’t it A Pity.”  Perhaps the most plaintive song to ever reference lawn mowing, it’s a twist on an old fantasy, only this time it’s the woman who goes out for a pack of cigarettes and never comes back.  “What am I gonna do when I run out of lawn to mow?” asks Tweedy, half-comically, half filled with dread.

These songs will slay live, and the life-affirming  “What Light” will make a great sing-along at the shows.  In fact, the songs seem like they were born out of the best moments of their live shows, accurately captured on 2005’s Kicking Television: Live in Chicago.

A great alt-country band is gone.  But Tweedy has surrounded himself with some good men, who do the name and the music proud.  A new band stands in their ashes; Wilco is dead.  Long live Wilco.