Overall this is Wilco returning to their alt-country playground while not abandoning...
Chris Jones 2007-05-11
Currently regarded as one of the best live bands on the planet, due in no small part to their last live album, Kicking Television, Jeff Tweedy‘s merry crew have weathered the storms of lost shipmates and new blood to deliver this, their seventh album. All the signs are that calmer waters are ahead. And that’s a good thing.
With the addition of Nels Cline and Pat Sansone it’s unsurprising that Sky Blue Sky’s texture is riddled with the sounds of chiming six strings. Depending on whether you belong to the Wilco-as-experimental-pioneers school or just enjoy a little 70s-style riffage this could be seen as bad or good. Certainly the dual attack of “Impossible Germany” owes as much to the Allman Brothers as Television or Sonic Youth. Jeff Tweedy’s humble deprecation is still here, but lacks the self-flailing quality that made Yankee Hotel Foxtrot such a thrilling yet often uncomfortable ride. Instead a song like “Please Be Patient With Me” is the work of a man who’s done his time in therapy and has emerged both more realistic and able to dwell more easily within his own skin. There’s humour aplenty too, especially in the George Jones-meets-slackerdom romp of “Hate It Here”.
If all this sounds bland and vaguely disappointing, it’s not. Too many critics seem to cling to the outmoded idea that to be good you have to be in constant pain. The fact is that Sky Blue Sky is made up of awesomely good songs that most bands could never approach. Who cares what shade of mood inspired them? This is obviously the work of a band at peace with themselves and each other. Cline’s ease with which he slips between jazzy exptemporising, pedal steel chimes and slide mayhem (the punningly titled “Walken”) proves that the gigging rite-of-passage (documented on Kicking Television) has resulted in him seamlessly becoming a crucial member of the team. The aforementioned “Imposssible Germany”, along with “Side With The Seeds” and “Shake It Off” display a perversely Chicagoan sense of the dynamics of post rock while retaining a kick-ass country feel.
Overall this is Wilco returning to their alt-country playground while not abandoning their ability to surprise and worry at any boundaries that remain. At the heart of Sky Blue Sky is a maturity to recognise that we need each other. The closer “On And On And On” begs us to remember our mortality, not as a burden, but as a liberating force. Wise words indeed…