I know we swore off music talk, but there’s not much else to write about right now (obviously).
The first few times I listened to the new Wilco record, I thought it sucked. My initial reaction was that they’d gone easy listening. I started scheming up a post designed to nettle Connor in which I would compare them to Coldplay.
Then I kept playing it, and something that is not uncommon for me happened: I was doing something else, halfway listening, and my ear latched onto a song. Actually, a part of a song, a single line, the chorus from “Leave Me Like You Found Me.” It was catchy. It stuck in my head.
Soon, I found myself replaying other lines in my head. “I try to stay busy…” from “Hate It Here.” Others I can’t think of right now. I still think it’s adult alternative, but not entirely in the pejorative sense; now I keep drawing Counting Crows parallels, and – go ahead and laugh – I like Counting Crows.
(Aside: I maintain that CC are a much better outfit than they’re given credit for being. Sure, they haven’t really grown as artists since they first hit it big, and that keeps me from arguing that they’re a great band, but I defy anybody to play August and Everything After and call them bad. Perhaps it’s because I go way back with Counting Crows, and associate their first three albums with seminal epochs in my life. Perhaps it’s because they played the first real concert I ever saw, and still the best, my freshman year at Centennial Hall. Whatever the reason, I think they get a bad rap, unfairly lumped in with the Collective Souls of the world. [The fact that they’re about to go on tour with Collective Soul doesn’t help.] I could write an entire post about this. Probably one of the 3,000-word variety.)
I’m still fairly certain Sky Blue Sky will never rank as one of my two favorite Wilco albums. Those are Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Summerteeth, not necessarily in that order, and not necessarily not. And I do think this album is the kind of thing my Dad would listen to, which is far from a ringing endorsement. Still, I can’t help but kind of like it. Maybe it’s a case in which a band is good enough at what they try to do that I can excuse the fact that I don’t admire what it is they’re trying to do. In other words, Wilco is obviously comfortable making radio-friendly pop music of little substance; but it’s really, really good pop music.
I remember the Wilco that tried to be difficult and complex, and I prefer that version. My favorite thing about Summerteeth is the disjunct between the light melodies and the heavy lyrical content. I loved the fact that YHF contained an album’s worth of quintessentially American pop music that did not ignore the complications inherent to that label. I probably don’t like this album as much because I don’t think it tries to operate on any other level than an infectiously catchy one. I think they’ve settled into a sound.
The best albums I’ve heard this year are the Modest Mouse and Arcade Fire offerings, because neither of those bands rested on their laurels. Wilco did, I think. And yet, that said, this album’s still better than almost anything else out there.
(Funny story I couldn’t fit anywhere else in this post: I got into a semi-heated exchange some unknown band at Congress the other night when, after their show (which I paid to see), I walked into the bar wearing a Wilco shirt and one of them looked at it, scoffed, and said “Oh my God.” Turns out his generic twee-indie band once toured with Jay Farrar, so he thinks he’s important enough for anybody to care what he thinks of Wilco. Fucking hipsters.)