This clearly has something to do with
the new ensemble line-up. Gone is Jay Bennett, the creative
foil with whom Tweedy experienced considerable creative
tension, which in retrospect may be seen as ultimately
fruitful (just as he was prone to the same kind of productive
antagonism with another Jay – Farrar – in
the dying days of his seminal first band, Uncle Tupelo,
back in the mid-’90s). Conspicuous by his absence
too is Sonic Youth all-rounder Jim O’Rourke, who
obviously contributed greatly to steering Tweedy and
his band into terra incognita. Tellingly, Born
Again In The USA, the last album by the Tweedy/O’Rourke/Glenn
Kotche side project, Loose Fur, was more urgent, riveting
and enjoyable than this mediocre platter.
Instead, we have the personnel who played on last
year’s transitional Kicking Television
live set, which drafted in studio sessioners Pat Sansone
and Nels Cline, who, while they can undoubtedly play,
and, perhaps more importantly, do what Tweedy tells
them to, are chiefly responsible for the muso workout
feel of this collection.
However, it is a Wilco album, so it can’t be
a complete turkey. Just check out the country soul of
‘Hate It Here’ for evidence of Tweedy’s
abiding way with a song.
While it is destructive to buy into the romantic myth
of the tortured artist, which demands he take chances
and go to the dark side, what’s lacking here is
the sense of risk which made the previous two albums
so innovative. Artists are entitled to be joyous, but
this latest work comes across as acceptingly bland.
Tweedy may have just wanted to make a record that sounded
nice, but in many ways, it’s just too nice.
First published in Magill, July-August 2007