I first heard Wilco in 2007, back when I was an XM subscriber – they were talking to Wilco and played the title song to Sky Blue Sky. Sounded pretty good, but didn’t interest me a whole lot, and in my mind for the next two years, I got their name for some reason mixed up with Nine Inch Nails. Two years later, to make money off of releasing Wilco (the Album), they went on a tour of minor-league ballparks and other small venues – including a concert at then-KeySpan Park on Coney Island with ‘very special guest’ Yo La Tengo (which I knew from their live, acoustic performance of “Meet the Mets”). Not knowing their music, I decided not to go.
But I still remembered Wilco’s name, and in October of this year, I borrowed Sky Blue Sky from Queens Central Library. And when I heard the first track, I was kicking myself for not going to that concert over the summer:
Wilco is, musically, incredible. Granted, with the exception of most of the songs on Sky Blue Sky, their lyrics are often mystifying, but the instrumentals are simply beautiful. For example, guitarist Nels Cline’s solo during “Impossible Germany” is absolute poetry:
Looking at the last two albums, the star of the songwriting is definitely Tweedy (although most of the songs on Sky Blue Sky were collaborations between Tweedy and Cline, pianist Mikael Jorgensen, drummer Glenn Kotche, guitarist Jim O’Rourke, organist Pat Sansone, and bassist John Stirratt), but the star of the performance on many of my favorite songs is Cline, such as the end of “Everlasting Everything” from Wilco (The Album):
However, some of their less recent stuff, such as the 2001-02 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (the business implications of which I’ll get to in a moment) , is also incredible – mostly led by Tweedy and the late Jay Bennett, as evidenced by “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” and the following songs, “Jesus, Etc.” and “Ashes of American Flags” – a combination of raw musical talent and incredible use of technology (all of the songs on their 2004 Grammy Award-winning album A Ghost Is Born, which I’ve yet to hear, were first recorded in ProTools):
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is also responsible for revealing how convoluted the “Big Four” has become, and how annoying the music industry is. According to the venerable Wikipedia, Reprise Records (a subsidiary of Warner Music Group) dropped Wilco before Foxtrot could be released. The band then released it on their website, to massive success. The band and the album were picked up by Nonesuch Records (also a subsidiary a Warner Music Group) – in other words, they were paid by WMG twice for the same album. There’s something very wrong about that – for the music industry, anyway.
In any case, Wilco has made quite a few really good albums, with their own sound – call it alternative, call it ‘dad-rock’, call it whatever – but I certainly enjoy it.
Join me for next week’s installment of the Saturday Night Stuff I Like, when I discuss Field of Dreams.