Today, the judges chew on “Wilco (the album)”.
Tony Wadsworth: I love this album, a great set of songs, probably their best since the ones they did with Billy [Mermaid Avenue Vols 1 & 2]. It’s a driving album, it skipped along wittily. I think it all came together really well for them on this one.
Mark Cooper: Wilco are one of those groups that if you have a relationship with them, like, I dunno, REM or The Grateful Dead, you just love them. They’re a bit like one of those groups for me. I love Wilco, they lost me for a while when they went a bit Radiohead, although I admire them for doing it. I agree with Tony, I think this album puts together everything that Wilco do really well; great melodies, great arrangements.
Allan Jones: It’s kind of hard to fault, isn’t it?
Mark: It’s really hard to fault, I suppose that could be a problem with it. I’m slightly damning it with faint praise, because I admire it while not loving it with the fierce heat that I have some of their earlier records. They’ve attained a professionalism and a sort of consummate artistry, but that doesn’t mean it’s quite as good as when they were finding their way. There’s earlier records that probably aren’t as accomplished, like Summerteeth, but I kind of loved them more. I play this and I’ll continue to play it, as it’s both their best record but not their best record, if you understand what I’m trying to say.
Allan: It came alive for me when I went to see them do the bulk of it live at The Troxy. Everything was extended just a bit more, so songs that are on the record, perfect as they might seem, could have gone just a bit further. I share Mark’s admiration and affection for them. It’s curious, because it’s good and you can’t imagine how it could be palpably better. So, yes it is their best album, but it’s not their best album.
Rachel Unthank: I’m not really familiar with Wilco, somehow I seem to have missed out on them. Friends of mine have said how much they love the earlier albums, and I really feel like I need to go back and find out more. So, I don’t really have a relationship with them, but I have to say that I found this quite boring. Listening to the opening track I found myself asking “is this Blur?”, not that there’s anything wrong with that, I like Blur. But because I’d heard so many things about them I was kind of expecting something more. I don’t know, it just didn’t engage me.
Mark: I get what you mean, because I think this album is slightly preaching to the faithful. They’ve honed what they do, they’re doing it really well, but maybe it’s not outgoing enough to engage in the way their early records do. Billy, you’re giving me a look…
Billy Bragg: No, it’s just that I’m trying think about how to gauge it as well. I love what they do, I always buy their records, but sometimes they can be a little hard to listen to. Are you supposed to compare this to the weird ones, are you supposed to compare it to Summerteeth, or what went before. The great thing about them is that you never know what to expect. All the time they were in that period where they were sonically pushing the envelope, underneath all that there were still these great songs. You could never say that they lost the ability to write great songs. I wouldn’t say it’s their greatest album ever, but when you fit them all together it’s still really interesting. For me, this is a very interesting next Wilco record.
Dave Robinson: I was really looking forward this album, because I’d heard a lot of demos which were absolutely extraordinary. I was expecting this record to be finished versions of those demos, but I found it to be a good, nice record but not great. I hear a couple of good album tracks, a few B-sides, but there was nothing like a couple of those big peaks that you might expect a record to be set around. I liked the songs, but I didn’t get excited by them.
Bob Harris: I love this album, I love the whole family that surrounds Wilco, like The Jayhawks, Uncle Tupelo. It’s a good Wilco album, I really like it, but again in the context of this award I think we’re looking for something really extra-special, and it isn’t.