Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
Label: NoneSuch Records
When speaking of bands that have had tumultuous histories, Wilco has to be one of the first names thrown into the conversation. Along with Jeff Tweedy, who already garners rock gossip fame for his legendary tiff with Jay Farrar and their now defunked band Uncle Tupelo, John Stiratt is the only member of Wilco that has recorded on all of the band's proper studio albums. Other than those two, the cast on any one of Wilco's cd's is a functioning revolving door of session players. This is largely due to Tweedy's writing style; create the songs/lyrics myself, let the band play it and add some stuff in later.
However, for Wilco's 6th studio album (7th if you count 2005's live Kicking Television), Sky Blue Sky, Tweedy bit the bullet for the band and decided to create and flesh out the sound of the album with the entire band, which, for this album, was six people. After leaks and listening parties, Sky Blue Sky emerges to the population that have been waiting with bated breath for Tweedy's songs again. And what is being thrown to the crowd is Wilco's tightest, most creative effort yet, filled with the lo-fi sounds that have flooded all of the band's previous releases.
The electronics of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot are gone. Instead, Wilco has turned into a talented country-rock jam band with wandering solo's amid Tweedy's poetic lyrics, brought to the for by his sleepy and sometimes softly-strained vocal delivery. The album opens with a Jackson Browne-esque muted guitar, complete with unaffected piano and soft guitars, highlighting Tweedy's soft delivery of what seems like a wake up poem, something to be read getting out of bed before diving headlong into the troubles of the day. And the opener ("Either Way") serves its purpose; it eases the listener to Wilco's new effort, and the troubles Tweedy has had since 2003's A Ghost is Born.
The next one and a half tracks proceeds as a fluid whole from "Either Way," with "You Are My Face" a bluesy ballad featuring backups to Tweedy's voice, an un-ordinary route for Wilco to take, but it works. The organ and piano work is superb throughout the album, although it is clearly the most subdued of the instruments. While there are meandering basslines that catch your attention, drum beats that bob your head, the organs stay in the back, helping the voice and guitar reach new heights.
And boy, do the guitars reach new heights. Halfway through "Impossible Germany," the listener gets their first taste of the blisteringly wonderful guitar solos that permeate the album's bridges and outros. Tweedy and new guitarist Nels Cline outdo themselves on the recording, creating a whole different element to Wilco: the rock-n-roll boys.
The first standout track is the title track, which is a lo-fi almost take on quiet Bright Eyes tunes, except Conor's wailing boy-voice is replace by Tweedy's muted delivery. The lyrics are poignant and yet unaffected; the listener is left to feel for themselves, because Tweedy, with his delivery at least, doesn't tell you how to feel. Along these same lines is the completely acoustic song "Please be Patient With me" and "Leave Me (Like You Find ME)."
Interestingly enough, you don't get to the first single, "What Light," until the second to last track. "What Light" finds Tweedy doing his best Dylan impression, with wandering slide guitars along with the repetitive acoustic guitar strumming and organs. Tweedy's words are still at their best; he has abandoned, to a certain extent, the politics of YHF, instead opting for Bukowsi-esque poetry that is light in places, dark in places.
The one failure with the album, if it is truly a failure, is that Sky Blue Sky is largely a fans album for Wilco. If you're not a fan of Wilco's lo-fi sound, there really isn't too much here to attract you. There are bouts of rock-n-roll and blues, but overall its the sound that Tweedy and co. have perfected. But even if you aren't a fan, give this a shot. It does not have the poppiness of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but it isnt the 10 minute long epic-filled A Ghost is Born.
The album closes with the end of the day. "On and On and On" is a sleepily-executed guitar ballad that guides you into bed and sings you to sleep. Tweedy's last words, "You and I will stay together, yeah/ You and I will try to make it better, yeah" close your eyes and make you feel comforted, even though you've been through Wilco's troubled days with their new album. Sky Blue Sky is a day in the life of America's ever-changing Wilco. You peek a little bit into their life, and are left with a smile that you got to witness, even if only through a cd, something great.
1. Either Way
2. You Are My Face
3. Impossible Germany
4. Sky Blue Sky
5. Side With the Seeds
6. Shake it Off
7. Please Be Patient With Me
8. Hate it Here
9. Leave Me (Like You Found Me)
11. What Light
12. On and On and On