October 3, 2019


Album Of The Week: Wilco Ode To Joy (Chris DeVille, October 1, 2019, Stereogum)

Ode To Joy is an album about seeking hope and meaning in a world that seems to be decaying beyond repair, so it's fitting that Wilco saved some of the best musical flourishes on for the songs where Tweedy zooms out to reckon with the state of humanity at large. The staggering "Before Us" builds from downtrodden whispers ("Remember when wars would end? Now when something's dead, we try to kill it again") to monumental swells of beauty encircling the refrain, "Alone with the people who have come before us." The political "Citizens" repeats the phrase "white lies" until you're forced to hear every possible meaning, all while the band builds nervous energy around a minimal groove. Lead single "Love Is Everywhere (Beware)" uses guitar curlicues to poke holes in the notion that good will prevail without any effort on your part.

That song leads directly into its thematic cousin "Hold Me Anyway," a stunning twilight pop-rocker where Tweedy blessedly lends his voice to the sort of soaring melody that has proven elusive in the latter-day Wilco catalog. It's a nearly perfect unity of Wilco's various eras, at once a wistful mirage and an urgent call to arms. As harmonized guitars slice across melancholy keyboard chords, Tweedy -- who talks in his book about how badly he wants to discuss mortality at dinner parties -- poses some questions most people try to avoid thinking about: "When you die, who's to blame? Did you think everything would be OK?"

If Tweedy is urging his listeners to wake up from their stupor, he's doing so from a place of humility. Among the album's prettiest and least complicated songs, "One And A Half Stars" depicts a battle to keep pushing forward when you could just as easily stay in bed. It's one of the most relatable tunes on an album full of them, Tweedy espousing his desire to change and the inertia that sometimes feels impossible to overcome. "There is no mother like pain," he suggests at one point, before concluding with a lament: "I can't escape my domain." With a title that seems to refer to unenthusiastic reviews, it's hard not to hear the song as another referendum on the state of his own creativity. Yet Ode To Joy is proof that Tweedy and his band can still wring exhilaration from exhaustion.

Posted by at October 3, 2019 6:43 AM


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