Wilco: Wilco (The Album) (3 stars)


Reputation can be a curse. With 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born two years later, Wilco re-wrote the book on what rock bands could do, blending brilliant musical experimentation with note-perfect rootsy folk-rock and searingly troubled lyrics from creative focus Jeff Tweedy.

Those albums produced unrealistic expectation levels which could never be met, but the band gave it a good stab with 2007’s Sky Blue Sky, a record which concentrated on melody over madness, but which still packed a punch.

In comparison, Wilco (The Album) seems light on inspiration. It opens well with the endearing ‘Wilco (The Song)’, a love letter to fans that chugs incessantly into your brain, but much of what follows seems like a faded facsimile of the band’s previous dizzy heights.

There are still occasional flashes of brilliance. The nerve-shredding tension of ‘Bull Black Nova’ builds ominously, layering staccato guitars to the point of meltdown, while ‘You Never Know’ romps along in a Tom Petty groove, Tweedy and cohorts dripping harmonies everywhere they can.

But elsewhere, things drag. The whole thing is listenable and has enough sparkle to grace lesser bands’ outings, but at least half the songs here simply don’t live up to Wilco’s heritage. Worse, Tweedy’s drive towards plainer lyrics sees the likes of ‘One Wing’ and ‘You And I’ flirt with banality rather than the heartfelt honesty he’s aiming for.

You couldn’t expect Wilco to keep replicating the bravery and brilliance of their peak, but you would hope for something with more bite than this.