Wednesday, May 16, 2007

On Sky Blue Sky by Wilco, part one

Can you hear it? I can hear it. It’s the sound of jaded, cynical, bloodthirsty critics laying the lash to the back of Jeff Tweedy and Wilco. Whoopah!

Can you hear it? I can hear it. Tweedy asked for it. They were all prepared for a deconstructed, noisy, messy album of abstractions both lyrical and musical. What was he thinking making a straightforward, mature, polished record, defying expectations yet again? Whoopah!

Can you hear it? I can hear it. Jeff pretends it doesn’t hurt. "People seem to be disappointed with every record we've ever made.” He makes jokes. “You know what the crazy thing is there are some of the same people who've stuck around to be disappointed each time. It's really unique. Wilco has fans that stick around to be really pissed off." But it’s got to hurt. Whoopah!

Can you feel it? I can feel it.

The long-time Wilco-haters jump out from behind the bushes and get the first shots in, smiles and smirks all around, they know they’re not alone this time. They have him for sure.

The sneakiest ones offer water and fill the cup with vinegar. Paul Isaacs of Eye Weekly is one of them. “Take a listen to the second track, ‘You Are My Face,’ when Nels Cline's oddball Steely Dan-goes-Neil Young guitar solo kicks in at around one and a half minutes. That's the surprising but thoroughly welcome sound of Wilco doing something interesting for a change. Enjoy it while it lasts.” Nels says, “That’s a Jeff solo,” but Isaacs obviously isn’t listening.

“To all the people who like this band: Fuck you!” someone from Vice shouts. No one pays attention.

But here come the backstabbers. Some of them deny ever knowing the band at all. “Sky Blue Sky nakedly exposes the dad-rock gene Wilco has always carried but courageously attempted to disguise,” Rob Mitchum says, prodding with his Pitchfork.

Some of them express feelings of betrayal and sadness. “Anyone who thought Wilco were interested in the future of Americana will be profoundly disappointed,” says The Guardian’s Dorian Lynsky.

Some, like Adrian Pannett at Delusions of Adequacy, tell us we’ve all been fooled – and he knew it all along. “It was hard not to smell the hype and dismiss the cynical feeling that Jeff Tweedy and co. were merely going through a mid-career chameleon phase to keep themselves and the critical intelligentsia interested, whilst the Americana boom turned to slump after the turn of the Millennium,”

Ian Cohen of Stylus just shouts dirty words. “70s!” “Jackson Browne!” “Starbucks!” “California AM gold!” “The Grateful Dead!”
When Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly come to Wilco’s defense, the lashers laugh. They don’t need to say anything else.

The true believers, meanwhile, trudge on, preaching the word to all who will hear it. Michael Metivier of PopMatters stands tallest among them. “I can understand a lot of the present and future complaints with Sky Blue Sky, because at various points I’ve shared them: the album is too slick, oddly unexperimental, straightforward, sentimental, embarrassingly direct. But lately I’ve had to face the awkward truth that despite my initial misgivings, I’ve listened to the album more than any other released in 2007 thus far, and there’s no stopping in sight.”

Though the voices of the lashers may be the loudest and their positions of power the highest, they are outnumbered.

Some side with the leaves. Some side with the seeds.

Maybe the sun will shine today. The clouds will fall away.

With the sky blue sky, this rotten time wouldn’t seem so bad to me now.

On and on and on, we’ll stay together yet. On and on and on, what’s next?


Blogger clifford d said...

the guardian quote is the one that seemed most interesting to me, in its snooty british tone. When they're not talking about the latest IT band, it's easy to forget about the European and U.K. tastemakers, who do comment wide and far on the state of "american" music from across the ocean.

11:03 AM  
Blogger M-C said...

The full popmatters review says it best.

Those who criticize this album aren't hearing the perfect, if economical, execution of the songs and obviously don't consider the sudden shifts in tone some songs take and cleverness of the lyrics throughout as an accomplishment.

I take offence to attacks on Hate it Here, one of my favourite tracks, the hardest. This isn't a mundane listing of household chores. This is clever writing that gets across the pain more directly than YFH and without being overbearing like the lyrics of Summerteeth.

2:35 PM  
Blogger Marco Ursi said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3:31 PM  
Blogger Marco Ursi said...

Yeah, Hate it Here has been taking a beating, along with Shake It Off. I'll grant that Shake it Off is a bit grating and takes too long to reach the chorus, but when the chorus kicks, it kicks hard. I don't understand why Hate it Here is being labelled so often as "jammy." The little instrumental break in the chorus near the end makes me smile every time, especially when Stirrat hits those McCartneyback Writer bass notes.

5:01 PM  
Blogger Leaf said...

Have you heard the new R Kelly album? Blows Wilco out of the water. He's got an entire five and a half minute slow jam of space metaphors for freaky sex.

11:55 AM  
Blogger Marco Ursi said...

Sounds like he's been hanging around with George Clinton.

You gotta read The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem. It's about funk, hip-hop, comic books and growing up in Brooklyn in the 1970s.

7:39 AM  
Blogger Leaf said...

Dude, I recommended that book to you after reading "The Beards" in the New Yorker. But yeah, I should read that book. This might come as a shocker, but I haven't read a book in like three months, just alot of magazines, facebook and the BBC.

12:04 PM  
Blogger Marco Ursi said...

That IS a shocker. You're such a book guy. I read "The Beards" on your recommendation and this was my follow-up. It's amazing.

3:20 PM  
Blogger mdevlin said...

dude, i love me some wilco (you may remember) and have seen them plenty of times. but if i've got some listening time, i'm inclined to go with other wilco efforts. i enjoy it, but don't see myself spinning it forever, as i do some past stuff by them.
and as per your post, i don't feel you have to be a "true believer" to like or not like it. a "true believer" can see a band's faults as well as its strenghts. i feel i am a true believer, i own more wilco cds/boots/singles, etc. than any other band in my collection. but i'm so-so about sky blue sky.
if 'being there' is as good as they'll ever be, i can live with that.

2:58 PM  
Blogger Paul I said...

Hey Marco, I loved this album! I didn't mean to be sneaky. Or get the guitar player's name wrong. =)

To be honest, it's the only Wilco album I've really enjoyed (all the way through, at least) since Being There and the Mermaid Avenues.

Paul I

4:13 PM  

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