Kids these days are all listening to shit. I figure it is because they don’t understand how to approach an established band with a long history and an extensive back catalogue. This is where I come in.
First up, America’s finest band.
Wilco can be divided into three distinct eras:
Starting with A.M., they were very much still in the hoedown country mode, with an added pop-sensibility. Jeff Tweedy was still finding his feet as a band leader and frontman, and while A.M. featured a number of good songs, it is their most straight-ahead album to date. I would consider it on par with Radiohead’s Pablo Honey in terms of how incongruous it now sounds next to their later work.
Being There showed the beginnings of the band stretching themselves in terms of textures and song styles. While the record still has plenty of songs with traditional structures, they were experimenting with elements of dissonance and songs like “Misunderstood” laid the foundations for what was to come.
As a double-album, Being There is perhaps overlong and in need of an editor, but despite being sprawling and inconsistent, it still rocks pretty hard.
The prescription pill era:
Summerteeth is a perfect convergence of style and sound. Produced to within an inch of its life, the songs gleam, but still feel rough enough around the edges to stay human and affecting.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is Wilco’s high water mark. A remarkable album that simultaneously washes over the listener, drifts around your mind, and turns you inside out. It was a singular record that came out of the turmoil within the band and the world around it.
After dismissing Jay Bennet, Wilco produced A Ghost is Born. A fine record, but one that will always exist in the shadow of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It has a colder, more clinical feel to it, and lacks the ethereal nature of the previous record’s production.
The current era:
The current Wilco line-up has been together for almost a decade now. Something the band hadn’t experienced before, with the line up changing for every album. Sky Blue Sky was their first effort, and while it featured some strong songs, it veered into the jam band territory that Wilco became mired in for the second half of the 00s and early 10s.
Wilco (The Album) is the first forgettable record the band ever produced. “Wilco (The Song)” was the only highlight, if only for the humour of the title and chorus.
The Whole Love was somewhat of a return to form for the band, however the record still lacked the emotional impact that their stand-out albums possessed. The Whole Love’s songs all tend to feel overlong and while there are exceptions, the band’s slide into The Grateful Dead mode seemed almost complete. The songs tend to lack the crackle and spikiness of even the most sedate moments on Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or A Ghost is Born.
Just when all seemed lost, Wilco came roaring back with their freshest, most vibrant sounding record in years. Star Wars’s short run time means there is no time for filler, with every track complementing the next. If it was released at a more impressionable age, I might have considered Star Wars my favourite.
Wilco also recorded two records with Billy Bragg – Mermaid Avenue volumes 1 and 2. These are a mixed bag, with the Wilco tracks being strong and the Billy Bragg ones being, well… Billy Bragg. There is a third volume of Mermaid Avenue, but this relies even more heavily on your like of Billy Bragg.