Wilco – Ode to Joy – Album Review
by Killian Laher
Wilco are one of those bands who seem to have been around forever (actually, 23 years or so). It’s easy to take them for granted, Jeff Tweedy could be accused of being ‘inoffensive’. Their album titles are jokey, tongue-in-cheek (Star Wars, Schmilco) and they never release any truly terrible music, but are they many people’s absolute favourite band?
That point of view may need to be reassessed. Wilco are a band who release consistently good albums every few years or so. On the first few listens, Ode to Joy sounds like nothing particularly special, and not too far removed from previous album Schmilco. Yet gradually the songs creep up on you, revealing depths you hadn’t noticed at first.
The album slides gradually into view opening with the dull, thudding drumbeat of Bright Leaves, as creeping, sinewy guitar slink back and forth across Tweedy’s exhausted sounding vocals. There are shades of Sparklehorse, or even the Beatles about this track and the shuffling Before Us, which follows it, but only if the Beatles had been hollowed out from the inside. The tracks are shot through with a low, autumnal sunshine, Before Us sweetened with bells and backing vocals.
One and a Half Stars sounds rootsier, harking back to their earlier, more country-inflected material before the band stick some bleepy sounds towards the end just to give the song a little twist. The unsettling stomp of Quiet Amplifier follows, adding a touch of guitar and strange organ sounds here and there, just enough not to overwhelm the song. Further strange sounds creep into We Were Lucky which builds towards a noisy conclusion, veering before the songs gets too unhinged. Easy listening this is not.
Everyone Hides is one of the few relatively uptempo songs here, an amiably bright, poppy shuffle, which, like much of the material here, leaves little impression at first but eventually lodges itself in your brain. Later, Hold Me Anyway is a kind of early 70s sounding soft-rocker, with a downright catchy chorus and a joyous guitar solo.
But these are atypical. White Wooden Cross and Citizens lope by tastefully, and mellow ballad Love Is Everywhere will unleash any warm, fuzzy feelings that might exist inside you. We finish with the sluggish, brittle An Empty Corner, whose guitar line is almost delicately plucked and an odd lyric about “eight tiny lines of cocaine left on a copy machine”. In common with the rest of the album, this song just somehow… works.
So it’s not A Ghost Is Born revisited by any means, nor is it Wilco-by-numbers. It’s a lethargic album at times which, while it is melodic may prove off putting to some, which is a shame. This album will creep up on you and charm you to death if you’re not careful.
Track List –
1. Bright Leaves
2. Before Us
3. One and a Half Stars
4. Quiet Amplifier
5. Everyone Hides
6. White Wooden Cross
8. We Were Lucky
9. Love Is Everywhere (Beware)
10. Hold Me Anyway
11. An Empty Corner