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Sky Blue Sky
Wilco isn't America's most interesting band for nothing. Each of their albums - while centered around Jeff Tweedy's reedy, evocative voice - sound almost like different bands are making the music.
Sky Blue Sky is no exception. Rather than the ornate pop of Summer Teeth, the rock & roll excursions of A Ghost is Born, or the alt country meets raving feedback of Being There, Wilco's new CD is laid back and straightforward - for the most part. Because with Wilco, there are always curve balls.
The opener "Either Way" has decidedly Seventies country-rock feel (anyone for a little Loggins and Messina?). New lead guitarist Nels Cline, however, mixes things up by offering a very unWilco-like jazzy solo. Likewise, "You Are My Face" changes complexions in the middle, going from a harmony-laden soft rock opening to rocking guitar workout.
"Impossible Germany" might be the most Wilco-like song, with cryptic lyrics, dreamy guitar parts, and a nice mid-tempo groove. The title song goes back to the group's country beginnings, with Tweedy offering one of his most unaffected performances and providing the thematic lyrical centerpiece of the album: "I should be satisfied, I survived, that's good enough for now."
The fatalist, accepting sentiment pops up in variations throughout the songs: In "Either Way" he sings, "I will try to understand either way"; in the intense closer "On and On and On" he writes, "However short or long our lives are going to be, I will live in you or you will live in me."
"Side with the Seeds" is irresistible but impossible to categorize, beginning like a Stax/Volt R&B burner, with Tweedy singing in an upper register sounding uncannily like Don Henley. Then it boosts up the time signature into a swing/jazz beat and evolves into a twin guitar-in-harmony workout - something like Steely Dan meeting southern rockers The Outlaws.
The R&B Henley rears it's head again in "Hate It Here," where Tweedy paints a chilling picture of a man whose partner has left him by going into minute detail of domestic chores, punctuated by a garage rock chorus. Talk about curve balls.
A few sub par efforts like "Shake it Off" and the goofy "Walken" detract from the strength of the rest of the album. But amends are made with the lovely, acoustic Elliott Smith-tinged "Please Be Patient With Me" and the gospel-inflected rousing "What Light," which shows a kinder, gentler Wilco.
While Sky Blue Sky may ultimately be referred to as Wilco's Seventies album, and it may not be the album I immediately turn to when I want a Wilco fix, it's ultimately another satisfying chapter in the annals of, yes, the most interesting band in America.
We'll Live and Die in These Towns
The spirit of '77 is alive and well in The Enemy, a trio of working class teens from Coventry, England who combine the passion and political fury of The Jam and The Clash, with the pop combustion of the early Who.
Their debut album We'll Live and Die in These Towns is a forceful statement of purpose that, like their '77 counterparts, throws down a gauntlet of action against a future of being "so sick and tired of working just to be retired."
Too young to sound jaded or "show biz," the band, spurred by the Weller meets Strummer vocals of guitarist Tom Clarke, sound downright committed and earnest - almost unheard of adjectives in today's pop world.
And rather than just pummeling their message through with a buzzsaw punk attack, they've already developed a nuanced delivery, blending acoustic guitars and beyond their years observations on the human experience. The title track and "This Song" poignantly speak directly to their friends facing dead end jobs and bad choices, admonishing them that there's an alternative.
But just as winning is the punk pop of "Away From Here" with its sing along chorus "Away away oh oh oh away from here" and "It's Not OK," which calls on the listener to "stop living your life by the alarm."
Such self-righteous naivete from the young is a wonder to behold, especially when it's framed by some of the most exciting rock & roll to be released this year.
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