Tuesday, June 05, 2007

On Sky Blue Sky by Wilco, part two

We all want something different from music. Some of us want danceable beats and bottomless bass to get our booties shaking. Some of us want catchy melodies and relentless hooks, songs that get in our heads and refuse to leave. Some of us want something we can identify with, an attitude, a social position, a culture, or even a look. Some of us, and I include myself in this group, want music that gets better over time. In other words, we like albums that sound and feel OK on first listen, very good on fifth listen, and classic the twentieth or fiftieth time through. Albums that grow with time.

Which brings me, like a lot of my thought-trains, to Wilco. The Chicago-based band’s latest album, Sky Blue Sky, received mixed reviews when it was officially released a couple of weeks back. Some critics derided the lack of experimentalism of earlier records like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born. Some said it showed that the experimentalism was a fraud all along. Others just said it sound like The Eagles.

I respectfully disagreed. I loved it as soon as I heard the opening, Nico-esque guitar plucking of “Either Way.” I loved Jeff Tweedy’s newly discovered upper vocal range. I loved Nels Clines’ mad, Hendrix-ian guitar solos. I loved the warmth of the arrangements and the directness of the lyrics. I loved how it differed from the previous two records.

The critics who said the record wasn’t experimental enough missed the point. Jeff Tweedy and Co. set out to make a simple, clean, direct, roots-rock album that both pays homage to and builds upon the late-60s and early-70s classic rock they all love. If an album is to be judged by how well its authors achieved their objectives, than Sky Blue Sky is a perfect ten. (This by the way, is NOT how critics judge albums. But that’s a discussion for another day.)

As much as I admire it, though, I’m all but done with the record. And I suspect this has something to do with how much I loved it when I first heard it – there wasn’t a lot of room left for “figuring it out.” I kept returning to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the first Wilco record I fell for, months after I first played it (and fell asleep about three songs in). Yankee kept many of its treasures sunken, where Sky Blue Sky had them on display in glass cases. In the end, gold is gold. But digging for it took a lot longer. For music fans like me, digging is where the fun lies.

And yet, by making Sky Blue Sky, Wilco have tapped another group of music fans of which I'm also a part: the fans who obsess over bands with large, ambitious, stylistically varied discographies (The Beatles, Radiohead, Modest Mouse if they were listenable, Spiritualized). In other words, the kind of band you can make "Best Of" mixes for.


Blogger M-C said...

when are you posting a new mix?

8:04 AM  
Blogger Marco Ursi said...


10:02 AM  

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