Jeff Tweedy doesn’t sound any happier. I’ve always found the Wilco leader’s apparent discomfort in his own skin to be one of the reasons the band was capable of compelling music (although by no means always).
On “Solitaire,” one of the many somber, introspective tunes on Wilco’s self-titled seventh studio album, Tweedy sings in his trademark laconic style, “Once I thought without a doubt/ I had it all figured out/ The universe with hands unseen/ I was cold as gasoline/ Took too long, to see, I was wrong, to believe, in me/ Only.”
Does that suggest that Tweedy is now playing well with others? Or has he finally found the others that are willing to follow his vision. I’m guessing it’s the latter.
In any case, Wilco’s approach on the new album hews more closely to standard song structures than some of the avant-garde-leaning work of the past. Only a handful of songs really stick to your ribs, though, and only one will have you singing it in your head later. That would be “You Never Know,” the disc’s most energetic, uptempo tune, with swelling background vocals, a choppy piano part and a swooping guitar lick that calls to mind George Harrison’s breezier solo songs.
While the material comes up short on the catchiness scale, the guitar interplay between Tweedy and Nels Cline is full of imagination and beguiling texture: the theremin-like whistle on “Deeper Down,” the push into Neil Young-esque noise on “Bull Black Nova,” the razory slide on “Sonny Feeling” (the albums’ other sort-of-uptempo rocker), the pedal steel-style slurs that pop up throughout.
Tweedy surrounds the guitars with a mostly pastel backdrop that at turns includes tubular bells, organ, and the slightest splashes of strings and horns (to give the closer, “Everlasting Everything,” an epic crescendo).
In the end, Wilco is a worthy entry into their canon, but certainly not a classic. (Nonesuch)