Wilco (The Album)
Any Midwesterners worth their salt know Chicago alt-rockers Wilco. They can pick out the unmistakable voice—by turns gravelly and soothing or resigned and rollicking—of front man Jeff Tweedy (interviewed here), or air-drum the intro to Wilco hit "Heavy Metal Drummer." Tweedy and Co. are finally back with the ingeniously titled Wilco (The Album), their most, well, Midwestern release in a decade.
But in this case, Midwestern isn't necessarily a good thing—as it was with Wilco's early, country-infused A.M. and Summerteeth (reviewed here) releases. Once the final song ends, you're more or less left feeling like you just finished a road trip from Minneapolis to Chicago: It's a modestly enjoyable experience with few highlights, and you don't remember much of it a day or two later. (The Album) has a few standout tracks, but unlike Wilco's haunting 2002 Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, there's not much memorable here.
Not to say it's a subpar effort: The musicianship is mostly impressive. Pat Sansone's piano work, fuller and better than ever, leads the way on "You Never Know." The sublimely talented Nels Cline on lap steel and slide guitars rounds out Wilco's trademark country lilt on "Sonny Feeling" and "Solitaire."
And like a good Wisconsin cheddar, singer/songwriter Tweedy's voice only improves with age. He holds nothing back on "You Never Know" and "Sonny Feeling" and proves equally adept at the intimate, teaming up with Leslie Feist on "You and I," a duet so sweet you want to put it on endless repeat. If only that were the case for the whole album.
With the exception of the opener, "Wilco (The Song)," "You and I," and maybe one more, (The Album) simply isn't very remarkable. But what it does share with past releases is the band's irrepressibly honest, shirtsleeves-rolled-up-to-the-elbows sound. And even if a lot of the songs are forgettable, Wilco at least preserves that—dare I say it—Midwestern ethic. Which maybe isn't such a bad thing after all.
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