Wilco – Shmilco

Reviewed by: Rolf Anderson
Score: 5/10

The announcement for Wilco’s ninth album, Schmilco, surely took me by surprise. For one, it comes just on the heels of their last album, one that I was not terribly fond of, despite its more upbeat take on alt country. Albums that are released early after the prior release by the band always worry me as to the quality of the new piece. And usually it results in a half-baked, haphazard collection of songs that should be given another 6 months to develop. Also, the title is a cheesy play off a Harry Nilsson album, and the cover art is a Joan Cornella piece. Despite my affection for Cornella’s bizarre art, and Nilsson’s excellent music, these also do not give me much excitement for this album. Now, if this was another band, say Ween, it would fit in excellently with the music and aesthetic of the band. Wilco isn’t this band. Wilco (and Uncle Tupelo by extension) has always for me been the king of combining the sonic and emotional experimentation of Radiohead-esque alienation, anxiety, and subtlety with the context of country and the down to earth qualities carried with it. As such, this cheesy, ironic-whatever you want to call it- title and art are somewhat off putting.

Now to the music. The cheesy aspects of the packaging do really betray the music underneath, and I have to say, I enjoy this much more than Star Wars. Sticking to a very light formula, this could pass off as a Elliott Smith meets Mark Kozelek creation. The Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-era sounds are almost gone. It’s a shame, in fact, I had to listen to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot right after listening to this in order to cleanse my palate and remember what used to be. Ok, that’s being a bit over dramatic, Schmilco really is not a bad album. I am surprised at the lack of filler on this one (Star Wars really suffered from that), it breezes past my ears, conveys its message, and invites me for repeated listens. And I did give it that. However, at the same time, there are really no high points to pick out. Sure there are songs that are better than others, but I process this as one complete thought. The lack of any musical variety through the entirety does not help this out at all. All of the instruments play essentially the same role in each song, all pretty subdued and simple, as if putting all of the focus on Jeff Tweedy’s vocals. Now don’t get me wrong, Tweedy’s voice is what I hope the voice of God is, and as usual, the vocals in Schmilco are wonderfully delivered, but Wilco is a five man band, and this album feels like a Tweedy solo effort. That is a disappointment, as this band without a doubt hits much greater heights when the whole lot is contributing and carrying the message of the music. Along with the experimentation of previous Wilco, the ambiguity and mystery is also gone with this album, traded for simpler messages lyricism that wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s not necessarily bad by any means. However, it does little to distinguish itself from contemporary folk artists that also employ serene sincerity to create music. I’m sorry Jeff, Sufjan blows you out of the water with regards to this aspect.

So what are we left with now? A Wilco album that shows a breezy, folksy side of them that contrasts heavily to their earlier work. Is it a bad album? No, but at the same time, this is far from their best.

FCC: 1, 4
RIYL: Sun Kil Moon, Elliott Smith
Favorite Tracks: 2, 6, 11

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