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Roygbiv 01-27-2009 05:09 PM

Wilco Discography Review

Although I have already reviewed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, I was inspired by Ethan's Talkin' Bob Dylan thread some time ago and decided it was time for another great American voice to get recognition.

Jeff Tweedy is a trooper. First a member of the band The Primitives, then the member of Uncle Tupelo after lead singer of The Primitives split, and currently a member of Wilco when Jay Farrar of Uncle Tupelo and Tweedy’s relationship soured; Tweedy must think he’s pretty special, or he really does love music enough to stick around for this long. Coincidentally, I must think Wilco, the band he fronts, is pretty special to be writing an entire discography review/retrospective. Truth is I do think that Wilco are pretty special, if not solely for the fact that their 2002 effort Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was such an outstanding and distinctive album. But though Yankee Hotel was their undeniable pinnacle, their diverse discography and interesting collaborations make them more than just that band that released one of the most triumphant albums of this generation. Starting where they started, this retrospective will focus first on Wilco’s studio albums and then their live albums and collaborations.

American aquarium drinkers please sit back and relax. Review of A.M when/if thread is approved.

Roygbiv 01-28-2009 01:40 PM

A.M (Reprise; 1995)
Band Members
* Jeff Tweedy – acoustic guitar, guitar, composer, vocals
* John Stirratt – organ, acoustic guitar, bass, piano, bass guitar, vocals
* Ken Coomer – drums, vocals
* Max Johnston – banjo, dobro, fiddle, mandolin, vocals
* Brian Henneman – guitar, vocals
* Daniel Corrigan – bass, vocals, background vocals
* Lloyd Maines – pedal steel, steel guitar

Listen to the album here (Wilco's official website).

Wilco had not yet shaken off Uncle Tupelo’s alternative country sound when they released A.M in 1995, shortly after the previous band’s break-up. Not much of a break-up, however, for most of the band members of Uncle Tupelo stuck around to create Wilco. Regardless, this is their transition record.

As a Wilco album, it is a stepping-stone and hardly the shape of things to come for the band musically, yet lyrically it is very similar to everything else Tweedy will write. Someone once noted in Wilco’s shout box that A.M is their Pablo Honey (Radiohead), and they couldn’t be more right. They will soon sound more refined and ambitious on Being There, but more on that later. A.M is arguably their most accessible album, starting pop rocky and catchy with “I Must Be High” and following strong with “Casino Queen.” Soon after that the listener will notice a pattern. Each song is its own contained entity, none really contributing to a sensible flow. Thematically the songs don’t really change, making each succeeding song sound like old ground, although things get slightly mixed up with “That’s Not The Issue,” a banjo driven song. It isn’t a grower like Being There and a Ghost Is Born is, but if there is one Wilco album to listen to during a party, it would be this one.

Although A.M is by no means a bad album, when compared to everything else that comes later it is a relatively unimpressive one. It's just alternative country.

NEXT: Being There, latest by next week.

mannny 01-28-2009 05:59 PM

Wow, I am so excited for this thread. Wilco is such a great band. Nice revew of A.M., that is so true how it is "their Pablo Honey." Also, I think it is their only album that can actualy be classified as "alt-country."

I'm really looking forward to your reviews of the big 3: A Ghost is Born, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and Summerteeth. My favorite of those three changes all the time because they are each such excellent and complete albums.

Roygbiv 02-01-2009 10:08 AM

BEING THERE (Reprise; 1996)
Cool Fact: The title of the album is derived from the 1979 movie of the same name.
Cool Fact: Although it was packaged with two discs, Reprise sold Being There for the price of one.

Hot off the heels of their 1995 effort A.M, Wilco return, sounding more atmospheric and cryptic. Whereas A.M was straight up, flannel shirt wearing alternative country with no mystery or real ambition, Being There is a sprawling double album that, when not completely doing without their alternative country sound, sounds like a more refined version of their then signature sound. As soon as “Misunderstood” starts the listener knows that this is no part of this album is going to sound like the beloved “Casino Queen” or “I Must Be High” of the year prior.

“Far, Far Away,” is probably the first lyrical surprise. At first it sounds like something that could have belonged in A.M, until the song nears its conclusion as Tweedy explains that he will find his beloved in the dark side. Citing The Dark Side Of The Moon provides the song with an eerie vibe that hints at Tweedy’s soon to be most infamous vocal, “I dreamt about killing you again last night, and it felt alright to me” (from Summerteeth). Although there are songs like “Monday” and “Outtasite (Outta mind)” (and, really, most of Disc 1) that are musically and thematically similar to the tracks found on A.M, there are a few surprise inclusions. “Kingpin” sounds like something Beck would have conjured, and “Dreamer In My Dreams” sounds like the Beatles resurrected.

Plenty of Disc 2 also sounds more country (minus the alt) than A.M, creating a diverse, often surprising though sometimes-redundant double album. I’m going to cheat and go back and say that A.M is not their transition album, but that Being There is. There are hints of what came before and what is to come for the band musically and thematically, though they would really depart in the psychedelic Summerteeth.

If A.M was their Pablo Honey, Being There is definitely their Bends.

mannny 02-01-2009 02:02 PM

I love this comparison to Radiohead, and I agree that Being There is their Bends. They have not yet reached the true Wilco sound yet. Nevertheless Being There is a great album. The Lonely 1 is one Wilco's most beautiful songs, and it's one of my favorites by them.

Roygbiv 02-02-2009 09:50 AM

Thanks Manny. The Lonely 1 is a great song, I agree. I prefer Disc 1 to Disc 2.

Roygbiv 02-02-2009 11:16 AM

Summerteeth (Reprise; 1998)
  • Jeff Tweedy – vocals, guitar, synthesizer, bass guitar, harmonica, tambourine, backing vocals
  • Jay Bennett – organ, synthesizer, banjo, percussion, piano, drums, guitar, keyboards, tambourine, bells, lap steel guitar, backing vocals
  • John Stirratt – bass guitar, backing vocals
  • Ken Coomer – drums, tympani
  • Leroy Bach – piano
  • Dave Crawford – trumpet
  • Mark Greenberg – vibraphone

Listen to the album here.

Summerteeth is so sexy. The whole album is drenched in mystery, darkness, sarcasm and catharsis. This is Jeff Tweedy at his lyrical bravest. In Via Chicago, one of the album’s strongest songs, Tweedy sings, “I dreamed about killing you again last night, and it felt alright to me/ dying on the banks of Embarcadero skies, I sat and watched you bleed/ Buried you alive in a fireworks display raining down on me/ Your cold, hot blood ran away from me, to the sea.” Couple that with Tweedy’s stance on God on “Can’t Stand It” and his sadism on “She’s A Jar” and what you get is their most daring album yet. Sexy is also the album’s production, which makes Wilco sound nothing like they did on A.M three years prior. They perfected the slight psychedelia of Being There, took away anything that resembled alternative country, and really came into their own. Two posts ago I said that A.M is their most accessible album. Summerteeth definitely challenges this. Not only is each of the first seven tracks better than anything on A.M, the entire album is much more memorable.

One of the gems in the album, a song so surprising lyrically it immediately became my favourite song in the playlist, is Pieholden Suite. Whereas most of the album is kind of dark, Pieholden Suite surprises and delights by completely derailing and becoming positively nostalgic. The song starts as sad as anything else on the past three albums, but then Tweedy travels back in time to sing one perfect verse, “In the beginning we closed our eyes/ whenever we kissed we were surprised to find so much inside”, after which the song opens and builds up like a blue sky after rain. It’s a delight to listen to, but it’s often unfairly overlooked.

In continuation with the Radiohead comparison, A.M = Pablo Honey, Being There = The Bends, but Summerteeth isn’t OK Computer. If anything it’s their The Bends take two.

Although A.M is their easiest to listen to, Summerteeth is the most rewarding of the 90s releases.

Start from Summerteeth.

Gavin B. 02-04-2009 04:03 AM

Summerteeth is far and away Wilco's finest musical moment. For the first time, Wilco sounds like a cohesive musical unit. At the end of the Nineties, Tweedy finally cuts loose from his Americana roots and moves into dark, haunting and emotionally searing pop psychedelica. It sounds like Music from Big Pink meets Pink Floyd 1967 for lunch in Paris 1919. Tweedy's most ambitous musical gamble was a commerical failure, selling only 200,000 units. Wilco's commerical failure seemed like a climb to heaven on Jacob's ladder.

With Summerteeth, Wilco crosses a bridge to explore exotic musical regions where few bands dared to tread. Summerteeth is Wilco's White Album from which a thousand fields of wildflowers open up and bloom. Summerteeth shimmers with shining light and vivid colors of a Giverny era Monet pastoral painting. With Summerteeth refutes F. Scott's Fitzgerald's idea that in life, there are no second acts.

johne 02-04-2009 09:16 AM

Great thread and reviews (which I agree with). Can't wait to see reviews of Yankee Hotel and Ghost is Born.

johne 02-04-2009 01:03 PM

comparing great bands
Great thread. I agree with comparison of Wilco to Radiohead's evolution, and I love hearing and understanding the evolution of bands by liistening to benchmark albums. I know this is a thread about Wilco, but I'm curious about how would you say your list of evoluntionary albums compares with The Beatles? I would put it:

Wilco: A.M. > Being There > Yankee Foxtrot Hotel
Radiohead: Pablo Honey > The Bends > OK Computer
Beatles: A Hard Day's Night > Sgt. Pepper's L.H.C.B. > Abbey Road

Though, I know some would argue: Beatles: A Hard Day's Night > Revolver >
Sgt. Pepper's...

Just curious. Again, great thread--thanks for it.

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