Schmilco - Wilco
By Benjamin Irons
When the rumour mill of music began planting the seed of a new Wilco album, it was never received idly. And why would it? Much like Deftones’ weakening ties to one specific genre during the nu-metal revolution, Wilco managed to defy as much, if not more, convention in the ‘90s with every subsequent record they put out. And in terms of making statements, they were second to none. Take the subtle “fuck you” to the corporate Billy-big-bollocks on 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, or the unashamed answers to critics on Summerteeth (1999); Wilco were never for one moment languished as artists, and, with 2016’s Schmilco being the 10th studio album in their 22 years active, they’ve yet to show that they’re breathed of ideas.
Though Schmilco lacks the fiery subject matter that smouldered the aforementioned full lengths, family, personal re-examination and hindsight are not often the most painless topics to lay bare on a record either. Straight from the albums humble acoustic opener, “Normal American Kids”, lead singer Jeff Tweedy concedes his reluctance to being just another commoner in his youth, and, consequently, as an adult. On the follower, “If I Ever Was A Child”, similar motives of anxiety are illustrated but in a way that delicately mask Tweedy’s absolute self-doubt that have followed him through his life, and “Cry All Day” simply laments those feelings of exclusion in the album’s inaugural episode.
Arguably, guitarist Nels Cline’s erratic guitar pattern on “Common Sense” could hark back to Tweedy’s panic-stricken 2004, that provided the impetus for their 5th studio album A Ghost Is Born the very same year. But “Nope” makes a jubilant attempt to clear those dark clouds that cloaked the text of the darker chapters for Wilco, and profits well: “Someone To Lose”, though built upon the butterflies of an apprehensive love life, is rife with pop-rock notes. “Happiness”, a whimsical ballad about questioning his mother’s unconditional love for him – “My mother says I’m great, and it always makes me sad; I don’t think she’s being nice, I really think she believes that” – makes a brave attempt to shrug off the heartache that embodies the lyrical content. And “Locator”, the most aggressive track, lyrically and sonically, thwarts any previously held notion that Tweedy was only able to smile through gritted teeth.
However, while the title of Wilco’s Schmilco is befitting of a band that are as unconstrained and unregimented as their music suggests, and though their endeavour to keep intimacy and authenticity at the forefront of their song-writing is done well, it does little more than sizzle when it should pop. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a pleasant and easy listen at the best of times, but perhaps when you set your bar as high as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and feel miffed at the end of it, you only have yourself to blame.