Wilco goes for weird on Star Wars
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Here’s the veteran band, the one that’s created songs as strange and jarring and beautiful as any of their era, who occasionally lapse into that treacherous middle ground of “good enough” that can leave entire albums gathering dust on the digital shelf.
And it’s here we find Wilco with Star Wars. On their ninth album, Wilco seems intent on answering the hanging question of what new sounds they can craft, and how to present Jeff Tweedy’s songs in a way that won’t feel routine.
That they had a new album was a welcome surprise, greeting fans in their inboxes as a free download before the commercial versions were available. And though it sounds like a quick, tossed off bunch of songs, the persistent replays reveal the depth that’s consistent in Wilco’s best work.
It starts with as much of a declaration of the weird. “EKG” is a quick, one-minute blast of detuned guitars stomping along to nothing in particular. This album is supposed to be fun and not-at-all taken seriously. It’s that kind of attitude that sets up rewards for listeners later when they inevitably begin to dig through the songs for more, taking it as seriously as repeated plays require.
It’s the same angular approach to personal work that Tweedy brought last year to his solo record, Sukierae. “Pickled Ginger” seems to include some of these sort of indirect references to aging, with Tweedy singing, “No one tells me how to behave / I’m born and I go in the grave.” If it seems slightly detached and fatalistic, it’s all turned on its side by the scattered, post-punk attack of the song, with distorted solos and fuzzy bass.
But the natural tunefulness of the songs lend themselves to burrowing themselves into the backs of minds, whistling along to seemingly nothing in particular until, yes, that’s the chorus melody to “Cold Slope,” the breezy singing in between the brutal starts and stops that frame a song that sounds like a line of broken chain links. With “Random Name Generator,” it’s more of the same outcome with a different approach — Tweedy’s refrain of “Random name, random name generator” becomes just as infectious without obviously displaying the traits of a traditional pop earworm.
And it all wraps up with “Magnetized,” a song as sweet as “EKG” was harsh, and a song that could have found its way on any of their records since A Ghost Is Born. Part of the power of that earlier record was the feeling that they could have done anything, and there seems to be a tangible grasp to that period here. Since 2007’s Sky Blue Sky, Wilco has covered their albums in a kind of unifying aesthetic. Where the lyrics have always been interesting, they’ve served as the bed for a new kind of attack, whether it’s dreamy, poppy or gloomy, and with varying results.
On Star Wars, no song takes the easy way out. They’ve gone for the edge, almost letting the lyrics out to fight this strange attack of digi-noise and off-kilter drums. It makes for a compelling listen, and it begs to be heard several times over. Ninth album or not, that’d be an admirable feat for any band.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org