Wilco – Schmilco
Around the time The Whole Love was released in 2011 Jeff Tweedy admitted that many people would greet the thought of a new Wilco album with a resounding ‘meh’. In fact, The Whole Love was a good album, containing one of the band’s finest tunes, ‘One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)’. Since then, though, Tweedy seems to have been trying to distance himself from that period of his musical career. The Alpha Mike Foxtrot retrospective in 2014 contained hardly any recent material. Star Wars, with its free download release last year, had a deliberate back-to-the-good-old-experimental-days vibe. And Schmilco is more than simply the latest in a string of dad-rock records too. It’s all starting to add up to a new era in Tweedy’s musical odyssey. One where he and the band are not trying to deliver anything desperately original, but where they’re not willing just to trot out one more variation on Wilco (The Album) after another either. That’s refreshing. Schmilco was recorded around the same time as Star Wars, but they’re very different beasts. Here, Tweedy’s vocals hardly ever make it beyond the level of a hushed late-night conversation. There’s a little bit of fuzz-style guitar work on ‘Someone To Lose’, but nothing like the amount on Star Wars where it was the dominant sound. Generally, Schmilco is a very quiet album. And a slim one too, running in at barely 37 minutes. Does it work? Well, sometimes it feels like Tweedy has handed over his home demos to Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche with a note to go away and fill in the gaps. Maybe the songs were all conceived and recorded as a collective unit, but on occasions it can seem like the work of a set of individual musicians. There are also times when it would be great to hear some of the songs played in full on Sky Blue Sky mode. ‘If I Ever Was a Child’, ‘Cry All Day’, and ‘We Aren’t the World (Safety Girl)’ would already be classic Wilco songs by now in that event. Here, by contrast, they’re downplayed a little. In the end, Jeff Tweedy is right that some people will respond to anything by Wilco with a big ‘meh’. And it’s good that even so he still wants to shake things up a little. On Schmilco the result is much more than ‘bah’, somewhat less than a ‘wow’, and more along the lines a contented ‘hmm, not bad at all’.