Out of nowhere Wilco released its new album. For free on its website, for a few weeks only, before the official release of cds and LPs. During my holiday too, but thanks to Erwin Zijleman I did not miss this treat and am listening to the new album right now and what an album it is. Alas, the download period is over. The You Tube version is still there though.
A new Wilco album is nearly always a treat. In some cases it may take a while for me before the quarter drops, but since the early 00s I am a fan of this Chicago based band. Adventure is a word it has written in capitols in its band manifesto. Of course it is impossible to renew yourself with each album, but on Star Wars Wilco manages to surprise again. Mainly in the very direct, straightforward approach in the music.
The opening is all but straightforward though. This somewhat experimental intro to the album is instrumental and estranging. Not that an approach like this is totally unknown. It reminds me that horrible Gang of Four kind of punk funk. All rubbing against the hairs on my skull and no decent melody in sight. It does make me sit up straight though. I'm totally alert by the time 'EKG' morphs into 'More...'. And quite rightly so. 'More...' starts with the same sort of nasty guitar sound, say Blur 1999, but becomes a totally The Beatles chorus. Those sweet little harmonies in the background. I just love it. Jeff Tweedy knows how to twist a song around.
In 'Random Name Generator' Wilco moves into a very direct song, with a punky undertone. "I change my name every once in a while", it seems, comes with some downsides. The whole song has a sense of loss, at least temporarily, about it. It sounds tough musically, with all the distorted guitars, mixed low into the whole sound, but search and you'll find vulnerability also. As such Star Wars at large is made with a nice ballance. When the singing is stricter or more monotonous, it is the music that is allowed some leighway, through a little side melody or a sound that jumps out of the fold.
As always I have some trouble sitting through a whole Wilco album in one go, but on Star Wars this effect is down to a minimum. This is the reason though that I never name the band among my favourites. Despite this fact, I am nearly always impressed with individual songs on an album and the achievement of the whole. I still have to see the band live for the first time. One of the only older bands still on my to watch list. It just never happened.
Why I think it will be special? Just listen to how 'You Satellite' is fleshed out little by little. The Nels Cline treatment is in there. The build up turns a song that starts out fairly elementary into an anthem of rock. Layer upon layer in instruments, volume and/or intensity is added, creating a monster. The ending is a big weak though, it just falls apart. Forgiveable after creating this wall of sound of impressive proportions.
With 'Taste the Ceiling' Wilco does exactly the opposite. This sweet song changes the mood from epic to mellow and sort of loving. Black and white, light and shade, moves back to dark in 'Pickled Ginger'. Some The Velvet Underground guitar comes by and matching staccato rhythm. This isn't a Velvet Underground song, but some of the madness is let out here. Weird sounds and an abrupt end.
Star Wars is an album that is growing on me. Slowly. Star Wars is not grabbing me by force, but by the spin, song by song. The relationship is turning out quite to my satisfaction. Variation, wit, tension, a great fight and lovingly making up, it is all here. And some craziness to enjoy as well. Who could ask for more?
You can listen to 'Star Wars' here on You Tube as posted by Wilco:
or buy on Bol.com