Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Wilco

  • A.M. [Sire/Reprise, 1995] ***
  • Being There [Reprise, 1996] B+
  • Summerteeth [Reprise, 1999] **
  • Yankee Hotel Foxtrot [Nonesuch, 2002] *
  • A Ghost Is Born [Nonesuch, 2004] B-
  • Sky Blue Sky [Nonesuch, 2007] B+
  • Wilco (The Album) [Nonesuch, 2009] A-
  • The Whole Love [Anti-, 2011] ***

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

A.M. [Sire/Reprise, 1995]
realist defiance grinding sadly down into realist bathos ("Casino Queen," "Box Full of Letters") ***

Being There [Reprise, 1996]
Is a two-CD package that could fit onto one conning consumers, taking on airs, or wallowing in nostalgia for a lost time when songs were songs and double albums were double albums? All three. Yet there's no point denying Jeff Tweedy's achievement as long as you recognize its insularity. His simple melodies, felt vocals, and easy stylistic sweep all evoke a past when roots music came naturally, from bluegrass to the Rolling Stones--a past he preserves by removing it to the privacy of his head and your sound system. There's no dynamism to his music--the rockers are slackers, the hooks essentially atmospheric. Yet as objects of contemplation both have their power and charm. B+

Summerteeth [Reprise, 1999]
Old-fashioned tunecraft lacking not pedal steel, who cares, but the concreteness modern popcraft eschews ("Summer Teeth," "She's a Jar"). **

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot [Nonesuch, 2002]
purty music, but I yawn like a lawn when I hear him recite ("Jesus, Etc.," "I Am the Man Who Loves You") *

A Ghost Is Born [Nonesuch, 2004]
Not counting the 11-minute synth drone that Jeff Tweedy says reminds him of his migraines, the most blatant of the mannerisms that riddle this privileged self-indulgence is its dynamic strategy. Play the soft parts loud enough to hear and the loud parts will demonstrate the limitations of your cheapjack sound system, you pathetic transistorized consumer clone. Fortunately, there is a counterstrategy. Play the soft parts as faintly as they deserve and you'll still be able to make out the guitar workouts that are the only conceivable attraction the album will hold for any neutral party not seeking an associate degree in sound engineering. Once Tweedy wrote legible songs. They didn't add up to much because he didn't, but they had their shallow charms. Here he's beyond such compromises. "Handshake Drugs" we get, and the NPR-ready one about the best songs not getting on the radio is a clever feint. But it's hard to imagine any of the suckers who fell for the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot hype striving to identify with, say, "Muzzle of Bees." Not impossible. Just hard. B-

Sky Blue Sky [Nonesuch, 2007]
Though it's possible Jeff Tweedy's wife told him to stop being a pretentious tweet, it's more likely she just told him to stop ignoring her. This doesn't mean he actually was ignoring her, mind you. But too late he figured he'd better make a point of paying attention, which meant no more pretentious tweet (for the time being). On the second-best track here, he does the dishes and mows the lawn even though she's not around to appreciate it. On the best, he admits consumers have the right to think his music means whatever they want it to. Everywhere he stops soundscaping and resumes songwriting. B+

Wilco (The Album) [Nonesuch, 2009]
"Come on children, you're acting like children/Every generation thinks it's the end of the world," begins the candidly catchy centerpiece of these lost-and-found tradsters' best album. Not a sentiment likely to flatter up-and-going bloggerati who consider "boring" an objective descriptive. But having come through his drugs-and-romance travails as well as the departure if not death of most of his original sextet, Jeff Tweedy doesn't give a tweet. He's as proud as he always should have been of the reliable songcraft and affable singing presupposed by the lead "Wilco (the song)," which promises "dabblers in depression" that "Wilco will love you." There's more existential acceptance than existential despair in the embattled "I'll Fight" and the enlightened "Deeper Down." But that just makes the ones about apocalypse and murder seem earned--"Bull Black Nova" is disturbing like nothing in their pomo phase ever was. A-

The Whole Love [Anti-, 2011]
Full-on Radiohead electronica Americanized with aw-shucks diffidence, red-blooded guitar, sharp tunes, and exceptionally dull poetry ("Standing O," "One Sunday Morning") ***