Monday, May 21, 2007

Wilco - Sky Blue Sky

Thanks to some unacceptable delays in whoever is running Wilco’s online store, I was forced to read the reviews of an album that I’d ordered weeks ago prior to actually being able to listen to it myself. Nothing says “Thanks, fans!” like letting the fucking big box outlets get your new shit before the people that actually support your endeavors.

So, from what I read, I was prepared for Sky Blue Sky to be Wilco’s homage to seventies rock, their most mature album to date, their most “straightforward” record to date and, my favorite, their “dad rock” album.
And while most listeners who’ve weaned themselves on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or A Ghost Is Born will find Sky Blue Sky dull and unimaginative, and while most listeners who whined and wished that Wilco might someday return to their Americana roots will herald Sky Blue Sky as a return to form, both complaints and comparisons are too easy to attach to it.

At its core, and as it’s acknowledged in the making-of documentary that’s included with the deluxe edition (invest the extra few bucks and get it), Sky Blue Sky is the sound of a band getting together and creating music.
For some of us, that’s a pretty welcomed road, particularly when you consider how chaotic things are around us. Think of it this way: if you were in a band like Wilco, what’s the best way to escape the bullshit of life? The answer, of course, is to get together with the fellas and make music.

Hats off to new guitarist Nels Cline for providing such an understated and generous performance; he’s the band’s best guitarist and, thankfully, he doesn’t feel the need to show off about it. Instead, he brings the band towards more “jam band” territories, but just to the point where you’re starting to pick up on it.

Occasionally, he’ll throw in a little Tom Verlaine phrasing to make things sound a little out of the ordinary.
What makes the initial reaction to Sky Blue Sky so frustrating is how polarizing the band can be, even when they released their most straightforward and mellow album to date.

We saw some complaining after Yankee. We saw the complaints rise even more after Ghost. And now we’re seeing it after Sky Blue Sky. The fact is, there wouldn't have been any complaints if this album were released after Being There. But when it comes after their most complexing album (Ghost) then suddenly the floodgates are open because the band decides to take a break from experimentation and just play their instruments.

However, if they start cruising through the rest of middle age with albums like this, then perhaps we'll have a problem. But for now, the subtleties within the grooves of Sky Blue Sky are a welcomed rest stop and as challenging as if they'd upped the aural experimentations.

Because they've taken a step back from the studio trickery, Sky Blue Sky is a more consistent album than A Ghost Is Born and more fully realized too. Not only is it good enough to become the soundtrack for this summer's cookouts or moonlight drives, it's good enough for the band to retain their title as America's best rock band.

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