Just to illustrate my often trainspotteresque attitude to music, I log (and have logged retrospectively) the gigs that I’ve been to at Setlist.fm. Aside for any commentary on my emotional well being, the website tells me a number of things:
- The venue that I’ve attended most frequently is the Roundhouse in London (possibly not true as it records support acts and festivals as separate gigs)
- The artists that I’ve seen most are R.E.M. and Robert Plant, with Wilco a close second
- The song I’ve heard most is “Shot In The Arm” by Wilco, followed by “Jesus Etc” also by Wilco
This should give you an indication of where Wilco stand in my musical affections. So when I got a post on my Facebook page this morning that Wilco had released a new album out of the blue and it was available for free here, I had that “need to rush to the local record shop” feeling.
Wilco are celebrating their 20th anniversary. There has been a couple of retrospectives and their regular Solid Sound Festival. Wilco have always had plenty of side projects on the go – The Autumn Defences, Nels Cline’s guitar solo stuff, Tweedy). Jeff Tweedy has moved into production and has just finished the fantastic new Richard Thompson album. But I’ve been crawling their Setlist.fm pages and there’s been an absence of new music. Between all this activity and the side projects, I had a sneaking suspicion that this was a full stop for the band.
Having downloaded and had “Star Wars” on repeat for a couple of hours, it’s clear there are still miles left on the clock for the band.
It’s short and brisk – 33 minutes. It’s their first album since “Whole Love” in 2011. It’s been recorded at the Loft, the music man cave that many a musician has cast an envious glance at.
It mixes the smooth and the angular. The hand of their guitarist Nels Cline features throughout with squally solos and the opening short instrumental EKG, a punked-up Red era King Crimson blast in particular. “Pickled Ginger” is a stripped back glam boogie with falsetto backing vocals.
The melodic side of the band is still evident. “Where Do I Begin” is classic lovelorn Tweedy. The recurring Beatles/Badfinger references crop up on “More” and the closing “Magnetized.” “Taste The Ceiling” could sit happily on the last album. It’s the closest to the country side of Wilco with slide guitars and Hammond organs.
“Random Name Generator” and “You Satellite” sit somewhere between the two, the latter especially appealing with its mesh of starry guitars.
This is an album to be played live and hopefully there are some European dates to look forward to. If not, I might have to drag myself off to Massachusetts for the next Solid Sound Festival……..
So this is a great introduction for people new to Wilco.
If the prospect of a free album doesn’t do it for you, here’s another prime cut to whet your appetite. This is “Impossible Germany” which has become a staple of their live shows. It really shows the band operating at their peak with some wonderful guitar solos and interplay.
Just by way of a final anecdote, I saw them at the Royal Festival Hall a few years ago. I was just getting in the lift to go up to the right level when who should get in but Stephen Mangan, Tamsin Greig and Matt LeBlanc, who it transpired had just started filming the wonderful “Episodes” together. It turns out they are Wilco fans. I thankfully resisted the temptation to say “How you doin’?”
It was for the best.