Approaching an album by Wilco is an interesting proposition for a committed Wilco fan. Is it going to be a magnum opus – ‘A Ghost Is Born‘ or ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot‘; a slight but fuzzy affair ‘Star Wars‘ or ‘Schmilco‘, or something different again – and there’s the rub. Wilco fans like different but not too different – they are cut from the same cloth as Old Shakey. They like it that he sticks the middle finger up to doing what’s expected but… but they’d really like to hear a new ‘On the Beach‘.
So ‘Ode to Joy‘ drops a week after some barnstorming UK gigs which premiered some tracks that sat perfectly alongside some of the fans’ favourites and it’s… different. A well-known stand up described the work as the ‘miserabilist manifesto for 2019’ and it’s plain to see where this came from. But… it’s wrong.
Opening with ‘Bright Leaves’ the template is set. Kotche’s drums are the backbone with a monotonous but arresting beat, weird tones float around the edges of the song, occasional acoustic strum and Tweedy’s voice siren-like yet seemingly bearing the weight of the world. The song builds and disperses, almost tide like with its eddying and free tonal form. Other songs such as ‘Quiet Amplifier’ grow and grow on a Krautrock beat that is muted and urgent and again the edges of the song are blurred by sounds that ebb and flow whilst Tweedy lays his soul on the gossamer threads of the rhythm. ‘Love is Everywhere’ is a highlight that seemingly breaks the mould of the album and as such it is as if the clouds have parted and a blinding sun has pierced some gloom of the songwriter’s soul. It is optimistic and possessed of a gorgeous Cline guitar motif. Utterly captivating.
Three songs have been highlighted here in this review, there are eight more. I urge you to explore them and find yourself marvelling at such artistry. This is very different and yet… the same.