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Saturday 18 August 2018

The boys may be back, but they won't be in our town

It seems bizarre now that when Wilco formed in the early 1990s they were considered part of the alt.Country universe. That wasn't so strange at the time, given that singer/guitarist Jeff Tweedy and bassist Jay Bennett had been members of the seminal Uncle Tupelo and their 1994 debut album AM cleaved to country-rock roots.

However, it didn't take long for Tweedy to stretch himself and by the time of the follow-up, Being There, he'd embraced a wider variety of styles. The result was an ambitious double-album which many US critics compared with Exile on Main Street -- the only difference being that Wilco's album sounded like it was recorded in an actual studio and performed by a band who knew what songs they were playing.

Wilco's trajectory has been an odd one, which has seen them glide towards classic '60s pop on Summerteeth before taking swerve into leftfield with 2002's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. This collection was more experimental than what we'd heard previously, although they'd hardly gone all Trout Mask Replica on us. Still, it spooked Warners subsidiary Reprise sufficiently for it to refuse to release it, whereupon the band bought back the tapes and sold them to another Warners label, Nonesuch, and were rewarded with their most commercially successful album to date.



angular

The addition of experimental guitarist Nels Cline added some more angular, avant-garde touches to A Ghost is Born, an album which saw Wilco try a couple of successful ventures into Krautrock territory. Since then, with Tweedy successfully completing treatment for dependency on subscription drugs to combat tinnitus, Wilco have been operating on a much more straightforward musical level.

Elements of country and AM rock can be heard filtering through Sky Blue Sky and Wilco (the album) -- with even a nod to Thin Lizzy on the former's Impossible Germany -- and you can only imagine how that went down when they played the song at Vicar Street and Electric Picnic -- and that trend has continued on The Whole Love.

The bulk of the record displays the band's love of sophisticated '60s pop, with interludes which recall The Beatles' white album and Abbey Road, while the stomping first single I Might could have come from a particularly frenetic Attractions session from 1979.

With The Whole Love Wilco are comfortably on top of their game, although not complacent about their art at all, and the only problem is that, for some reason, they've decided to skip Ireland on their forthcoming European tour. Hooray for the album. Boo for the tour-planning.

>George Byrne

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