Put on Your Headphones Before You Explode
Dave was the first person to play Tom Waits for me. He’s done a lot of other stuff, too. We were recently talking about Wilco. He’d seen some of their set at Bonnaroo, listened to their new record, and reported on them thusly:
I do like them, but I feel like they’re not that exciting these days. Seeing them is like visiting an old friend who still lives in your hometown.
I got what he was saying. Overall, Wilco (The Album) isn’t exciting. It’s fair to ask if Nels Cline’s talents are put to their best use imitating George Harrison -that’s exactly what Cline does on “You’ll Never Know”. It’s also fair to conclude that they’re not. But, I think there’s more to the record than that.
After his three electric masterpieces, Bob Dylan put out the mostly-acoustic John Wesley Harding. Released six months after Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, some said the Dylan record sounded like it was trying to reclaim a long-gone sound. In retrospect, it’s clear that Dylan’s sonic reset came in service to his growth as a songwriter.
Wilco’s new record is no John Wesley Harding, but I think something similar may be at play here. While the sound of The Album doesn’t come close to the risks of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or the frustration embodied on A Ghost is Born, it doesn’t really sound like any of their other records, either. If Wilco (The Album) deserves comparison to any Dylan record, it’s the domestic tranquility of New Morning, where the songwriter gave himself permission to enjoy the status quo for a while.
If Dave hadn’t demonstrated a supernatural understanding of music in thirty million different ways over the years, I would say something vindictive about him in this space. Did I mention he introduced me to Tom Waits’ music? My autobiography will have a chapter dedicated to the godlike esteem I have for him. It will include no mention of this misstep. ❤