5 August 2015

Wilco - Star Wars

Wilco have always seemed to be in front of the crowd in terms of how they get their music to people and what they want their music to be.  Back in 2001 with the album 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' when their label Reprise would not release their album, they streamed it for free (which back then was unheard of) and ended up releasing it on Nonesuch Records (both of which are part of the Warner Brothers Group).  At the time, it was seen as a folly for a band to do this; but their fans and critics loved the album and to date is their bestselling individual album to date.  So why drop this album for free when it was scheduled for release in November this year?  Well, after I downloaded it from the band a week later I got another email from them which was sent to everyone who had done the same as me.  It basically said they were in a good position to do this, and imploring us to purchase a physical release of an album by an artist or band who are less fortunate than themselves - the list was a few bands I had not heard and some I had.  It also pointed out that some bands would not be able to exist without people purchasing their work (which is true, not all bands can give their work away for free unless it is a hobby). I applaud the sentiment behind that post, it shows that this was not just one big stunt to get the band's name out there once again.  I will be looking into that list soon and pick one (not the Sunn 0))) + Scott Walker as I already have that record), but this is not the reason why I am writing this.  I am writing this to review 'Star Wars' (I wonder if Lucas/Disney is trying to sue them for that name) and find out what all the fuss is about.....

Starting off the album is "EKG" which is an instrumental that sounds like the band are warming up (at least it would if you were not familiar to the way they work), it also has a feel like "The Chain" by Fleetwood Mac; I do not that this is intentional, but when I first heard it the first think that came to mind is that it would be used as the background music for a F1 show at some point.  A short and sweet intro that leads to the next song, "More...".  This is text book Wilco, it has that American alternative music that dominated the early 2000's with a mixture of Beatles love, Americana and Jeff Tweedy's rich vocals making the song sound like the feeling of rich velvet.  The song always sounds as if it might fall apart into a psychedelic dream at any point, I think that is part of the appeal here for me with the band and this song is a great example of their work.  "Random Name Generator" is next and you are in another fine song from Wilco, this time they are stomping their way along with a sound that some bands can only dream of achieving.  When they get into this sort of state, nothing else sounds like them, can touch them or detract from them; three songs into the album and already I am returning to that place that Wilco always seem to take me when they get it right - bliss.

"The Joke Explained" sounds like an old rock n' roll class given a fresh lick of paint, the random lyrical context is always open to interpretation and this song is no different.  For me it is about a man who is having something explained to him that was obvious to others.  It is a fine song, not as strong as the opening trio but still a decent number to keep the album going.  "Your Satellite" is the longest track of the album (the vast majority of this album is sub three minutes), this song is a builder which takes its time to add the layers of the song with a patience that is rewarded with a euphoric crescendo towards the end of the song.   It has that psychedelic, almost falling apart feeling that gives this band a distinct sound and structure; I love the fact it sounds like it will fall into the void at point, but the band pull it back from the edge each time - once again a song that shows that the talent behind the band.  "Taste The Celling" is a song which feels like it could have been wrote at any point in their career, placed on another album and still would have sounded as glorious.  It is Wilco by numbers, it is a standard song that they create and this is not a bad thing or dissing the number - it is just one of those songs that the band can produce all the time and is very basic for them.  It is still one of the best songs of the album, just a standard number as well.  The seventh number is called "Pickled Ginger" and it goes slightly glam rock here; the tone of the guitars and the rhythm of the song is very Sweet/David Bowie and it has a rebellious spirit to the words.  It is also mostly just vocals and guitars for the vast majority of the number and once the band comes in, it really picks up steam in a dirty sort of way.  An interesting number that does not give a fuck and will continue on its way with or without support.

"Where Do I Begin" is a thoughtful song to begin with.  It comes across as an Americana ballad almost, with the song about regret and determination to not fall apart.  Then they song goes into a psychedelic swirl that sounds as if it is at odds with the sentiment that started the song - it is a great song that shows the two sides of the band perfectly, but oddly I found the song hard going.  It is not that it is a bad number, it just does not quite get it right for me.  "Cold Slope" on the other hand is a number that I can get to grips with straight away.  The slow paced indie strut that makes for an impressive number that feels like it is originally theirs but I know the style has been copied by many other bands (MGMT come to mind straight away).  The more I listened, the more I found in the song as it does feel like it is going in many directions in terms of guitars at times, drummer Glenn Kotche and bass player John Stirratt keep this song together whilst the rest of the band just go for it at times.  Once again, the band have delivered another great number on this album.  The penultimate song is called "King of You" which when played on its own is a good Alternative rock number that is very solid and well played.  When following on from "Cold Slope", it sounds too similar and I am wondering why they did not just merge the two together?  Well, a Wilco album for me would not be the same without one grumble - still decent, just not essential.  Ending the album is "Magnetized" and it is a mournful sound that ends this album.  It feels as if the band have went for the wind-down mood and this is the perfect song to end the journey that is 'Star Wars'.  They have picked the perfect number out of the selection here to end the album, it is just the right level of strange mixed with the subtle edge that only Wilco can bring to end the album on a high note.

Even if this album was not on a free download, it would have been an album that I want to own.  Sometimes Wilco have got it wrong for me, something has not clicked and whilst I would always appreciate the craftsmanship that the band always place in their work - it would not be for this listener.  This album is not one of those albums.  Apart from a couple of numbers, this is the best they have released in years.  It is a great alternative album from one of the elder statesmen of the Alternative Rock genre.  It is obviously going to gain a lot more publicity through the free download, it will also get people who are so impressed by the album that when it gets a physical release they will purchase that as well (I count myself in that group).  It is such a great record that I think I will have to play it again once I post this, before I do the next blog - well played Wilco, well played.

8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart

Top track - Random Name Generator

For a limited time, you can download the album for free from the band at their website (you can also pre-order the album on CD or Vinyl).

As usual, here is the link for Amazon - not currently, but you can pre-order; however, it would be better to purchase straight from the band?

You can stream the album on Spotify here

You can stream the album on Deezer here

You can stream the album on Tidal here

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