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With 'Wilco', Wilco Shows Its Earnest Side
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With 'Wilco', Wilco Shows Its Earnest Side
With 'Wilco', Wilco Shows Its Earnest Side
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TERRY GROSS, host:

Our rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of Wilco's new album, which is called "Wilco (The Album)." It's the band's seventh studio album and finds the group, led by singer and songwriter Jeff Tweedy, in a confident, sometimes even playful mood. "Wilco (The Album)," leads off with a song called, "Wilco (The Song)."

(Soundbite of song, "Wilco (The Song)")

Mr. JEFF TWEEDY (Lead Singer, Wilco; Songwriter): (Singing) Are you under the impression, this isn't your life. Do you dabble in depression? Is someone twisting a knife in your back? Are you being attacked? Oh, this is a fact that you need to know. Oh, oh, oh, oh. Wilco. Wilco. Wilco, will love you baby.

KEN TUCKER: Do you dabble in depression? Jeff Tweedy sings on that opening song. Are you being attacked, he asks. His response? Wilco will love you, he sings. It's a sweet, whimsical way to begin an album containing many comfy, inviting songs. Rare it is for a rock band to speak with such fondness for its audience. Even the Beatles felt it necessary to invent Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band to do so. And if I invoke the Fab Four, another reason is that there's Beatlesque music on "Wilco (The Album)," such as "You Never Know," with the George Harrison-ish melody of its refrain. Wilco may sing the words, I don't care anymore, but the musical craft behind those words deny them, happily.

(Soundbite of song, "You Never Know")

Mr. TWEEDY: (Singing) Come on children. You're acting like children. Every generation thinks it's the end of the world. All ya fat followers get fit fast. Every generation thinks it's the last thinks it's the end of the world. There's dream down a well. There's a lone heavy hell. I don't care anymore. I don't care anymore. It's a feeling we transcend. We're here at the end. I don't care anymore. I don't care anymore. You never know.

TUCKER: On that song, Jeff Tweedy calls his listeners, children, and exhorts them to quote unquote "grow up." It's not stern daddy talking. It's more like the yearning hope of a man who's done some growing up himself over the past few years, and he recommends it as healthy, if not life-saving. This leads Wilco into some attractive love songs, such as Tweedy's duet with the Canadian vocalist, Feist, singing about the constant mysteries of getting to know someone you've fallen in love with, on "You and I."

(Soundbite of song, "You and I")

Mr. TWEEDY: (Singing) You and I, we might be strangers. However close we get sometimes, it's like we never met.

Mr. TWEEDY and FEIST (Musician): (Singing) But you and I, I think we can take it. All the good with the bad, make something no one else has. You and I. You and I. Me and you.

TUCKER: For 15 years, Wilco has done its best to nurture a large cult following with thoughtful experiments in dissonance, with a spacey version of country music and with covers of Woody Guthrie songs that sounded more like Wilco than Guthrie. It's a track record to be proud of, but it's also music that placed each experiment between the band and its audience, walling them off at a safe distance. Thus the boldest move Tweedy has made on this album is its very directness, whether it's telling us Wilco loves us without fear of seeming sentimental or pandering, or asserting a fierce devotion on the sharp, angular ballad called, "I'll Fight."

(Soundbite of song, "I'll Fight")

Mr. TWEEDY: (Singing) I'll go, I'll go, I'll go, I'll go for you. I'll fight, I'll fight, I'll fight, I'll fight for you. I'll kill, I'll kill, I'll kill, I'll kill for you. I will, I will, I will. I'll go, I'll go, I'll go, I'll go for you. I'll fight, I'll fight, I'll fight, I'll fight for you. I'll die, I'll die, I'll die, I'll die for you. I will, I will, I will. And if I die, I'll die, I'll die alone on some forgotten hill, abandoned by the mill. All my blood will spring and spill. I'll thrash the air and then be still. You'll wait.

TUCKER: "Wilco (The Album)" is about recovery and acceptance -acceptance of the self, acceptance of one's station in life, and feeling at once humbled and emboldened by that. Acceptance, but not complacency. Jeff Tweedy is suggesting how you can make stability sound like a tough artistic challenge and a grand adventure.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly. You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.

I'm Terry Gross.

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