Album of the Week: Wilco, 'Schmilco'

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Wilco, 'Schmilco'
Wilco, 'Schmilco' comes out Sept. 9, 2016. (ANTI- Records)

When Wilco released Star Wars last year, frontman Jeff Tweedy mentioned that they already had another album in the bag. Wilco Schmilco appears to be that album. It seems to have very little in common with its predecessor, even though they were recorded at roughly the same time.

Wilco have become as unpredictable as Neil Young; you never know what's next musically. This time, Wilco bring a spare, almost "unplugged" set of songs. Much of it sounds like not-quite-finished demos, featuring mainly acoustic instruments and simple drum kit.

The goofy title might be a nod to the Harry Nilsson album, Nilsson Schmilsson. Maybe Wilco are just having a laugh at being labeled "dad rock" — have a look at the cover art! If I was listening to Wilco as a teenager, I can hear my dad saying,"Wilco, schmilco!"

Speaking of Harry Nilsson, you can hear his blueprint on one of the album's highlights, "Happiness," which suggests Tweedy is reminiscing about his late mother when he sings, "My mother says I'm great, and it always makes me sad." I hear hints of Nilsson's old "lost weekend" buddy, John Lennon, on "Shrug and Destroy," which could almost pass for a Lennon or maybe even The Beatles' outtake.

"I think this record is joyously negative," Jeff Tweedy said. "It's sad in a lot of ways, but not in any that reach a conclusion of doom or hopelessness. I just had a lot of fun being sour about the things that upset me."

Maybe that "joyously negative" feeling comes into play on the off-kilter "Common Sense," which sounds like a fun, wee-hours experiment. I love the wordplay on "We Aren't the World (Safety Girl)," which includes the line "There's a spider in my soup!"

This is a pretty eclectic album, but Tweedy and the band come through with a couple of real gems. "If I Ever Was A Child" will have you singing along to "I never was alone/Long enough to know/If I ever was a child." In, the album finale, "Just Say Goodbye," Tweedy reminds us that he doesn't have all the answers, but he sure has fun trying to find them.

Wilco have been a steady unit for more than a decade; there hasn't been a lineup change since 2004. These guys are firing on all cylinders, even when they are goofing around. They know how to keep it interesting. If this is "dad rock," count me in. Long live Wilco Schmilco!

Resources

Wilco - official site

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  • Jeff Tweedy of Wilco
    Jeff Tweedy of Wilco performs at Hall's Island in Minneapolis, Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)

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