Wilco – Sky Blue Sky

June 17, 2007

Sky Blue Sky

The new record from Wilco, in short, works a little better in theory than in practice. The general standout value of the album is that it is filled with more mellow lo-fi songs than Wilco usually makes. This is exactly the kind of album we have waited for from Wilco, although I haven’t quite scaled all the reaches of their career so I can only say so much. But a little less country and a little more rock and roll seems like the ideal new direction after having made A Ghost Is Born, possibly the bands most riff-y electric album yet. So it is really nice to have a few more mellow songs. But the album isn’t as mellow as you have been told. There are a myriad of louder stomps that Wilco has made before. The quality is pretty mixed. There is some stuff that is really good and some stuff that is downright disappointing. But I’d call it a winner in the end, there is definitely more good than bad.

Even if it isn’t quite as quiet as advertised, it still feels like three parts folk and only one part country and rock. The opening song, Either Way, is a personal favorite and in my opinion one of the better songs Wilco has made. Two acoustic guitars, a quiet organ, soft beats, and a warm bass sound like half of the number they really are, and this is practically a lullaby for a midday nap. What struck me about this song is how fricking good the guitar solo is. I think the band has a new guitarist since A Ghost Is Born, and if he is the one showing his chops all over the place, I’m impressed. Technically the solos are simply but sound very right to the ear. Either way and the song Sky Blue Sky are soothing folky ballads more than worthy of being included on a best of comp. But these songs are sadly rather lonely. if the whole album had more songs like this, I would be more than happy, but instead a more long winded approach is taken to the majority of the songs. That’s okay though. Sometimes time heals, as it does on Impossible Germany where a completely dull and unimmaginative riff is eventually transformed into something truly beautiful (and another solo heaven at that).

But the weaknesses aren’t insignificant at times. Some of the songs are just too tired. I am not too keen on You Are My Face. Shake It Off is just unbearably dull. And Side With The Seeds is a generally good song ruined by Jeff Tweedy’s really mediocre vocal performance. But to be honest, I have always had serious issues with Tweedy’s vocals. The only thing that stops me from giving Yankee Hotel Foxtrot five stars is a few minor vocal issues I have, specifically with songs like Radio Cure and War on War. I get the feeling, at times, that some of Wilco’s songs would be better left instrumentals considering they have enough experimental instrumentation as it is. However, poetically he is very solid. Half the fun of YHF was the lyrics. He fumbles on Sky Blue Sky more than once as though. A lot of times, namely on Side With The Seeds and Walken, he sings way louder than he needs to, and his vocal melodies just aren’t as good as they should be. He has that problem a lot. He doesn’t quite know how to yell, and to be honest, he really shouldn’t. He should just sing.

But in the end the album is more than justified. Over half the songs are very lovely. My highlights are Either Way, Sky Blue Sky, Impossible Germany, and Please Be Patient With Me. There is actually a significant forward step made here in style at points, although it wasn’t really expanded on as much as I would like. If the entire album was more folky quiet stuff I would appreciate it more, but in the end it’s worth your money if you like Wilco and has some of the best songs this year has had to offer.

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