Wilco’s return to form

Wilco is a band that needs no introduction to anyone well versed in the world of music. The band started as a Jeff Tweedy project after his last band, Uncle Tupelo, reached an early fate. Since their inception, Wilco have created a string of albums that had fans and critics alike engaged, with the only outright critical disappointment in their 25 year, 11 album long catalog being their first record, A.M.

  Wilco has made classic after classic, most notably their magnum opus Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which has topped tons of best of lists for the 2000s. Their albums Being There, Summerteeth, and A Ghost Is Born are also some of the most beloved albums of the late 90s and early 2000s.

Sadly, while none of their records have ever left a negative impact on me, their albums from the mid 2000s to now have progressively inched towards the “just ok” mark with each release. I came into this album expecting something that feels nice but empty.

To my excitement, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Ode To Joy isn’t going to reinvent the wheel, but it’s easily their most mature album to date, with the same lyrical topics Wilco has pulled off before, but now the music behind it has hit a perfect balance between the two sounds Wilco has been experimenting with.

Albums like The Whole Love and Star Wars have a pulse and feel alive, but they don’t hit as hard because instrumentally they try too hard to be a different sound, instead of Wilco. Their last release, Schmilco, is considered a return to their classic sound, but they take the weaker elements of their classic sound, specifically their unimpressive track record with songs that go a snail’s pace, and amplify it.

Wilco can do experimental songs like Spiders and slow songs likeMisunderstood, but the last few albums focus on only those sounds. 

Ode to Joy is a great return to their classic sound. The whole album mixes the feelgood uptempo songwriting of The Whole Love, with the honest, acoustic instrumentation of Schmilco to produce their best sounding album since Yankee, which was released almost 2 decades ago.

While the majority of the songs are still slower, tracks like Hold Me Anyway and specifically the single Everyone Hides are captivating and fun in a way fans haven’t seen in a while. This album is also their most lyrically mature yet. While the same themes hold as previous records, Tweedy’s lyricism has taken some turns into a direction that’s darker yet not annoyingly angst filled, a fine line that a large group of artists can’t succeed at.

Overall, this album is not a game changer or a genre defining moment, but it is a piece of work that is fun and memorable for what it is: a solid folk album from one of the leading bands in the genre. 

This album may not flip any people who find the genre less than ideal, but if you are even a casual listener to folk, or enjoy any Wilco material, pick up Ode To Joy.