Dusted Reviews

Wilco - Sky Blue Sky

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Wilco

Album: Sky Blue Sky

Label: Nonesuch

Review date: Jun. 14, 2007

For fans, every Wilco release is met with equal measures of anticipation and a sort of uncertainty that, though they have made uniformly great records so far, the next could be terrible. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was incredible, delivering in full on the promises of the rock and pop genres (“playing Kiss covers beautiful and stoned”), and its lyrical content and production nuance gave it a bottomless pit of depth. It seemed worthy of and able to pay back any amount of attention one could give it. A Ghost is Born turned out to be a grower. It eschewed the studio constructions of its predecessor in favor tightened musicianship and instrumental expression. The album was animated by a panic-ridden Tweedy. Many of the songs proved their durability and charm over repeated listens, and “At Least That’s What You Said” let Tweedy and especially Kotche open up on their instruments in ways that would never fit into the confines of Yankee’s meticulous architecture. But there remains the latent knowledge that the run of divergent successes cannot be sustained indefinitely, that the fragility brought on by personnel changes and stylistic shifts will eventually get the better of the band. Enter Sky Blue Sky: a thoroughly boring realization of these fears.

The opener, “Either Way,” is pleasant in a tossed off, no-harm-no-foul sort of way, asinine lyrics aside. “Impossible Germany” is indicative of what plagues the album. It’s one of the stronger tracks on the record, with a restrained and airy sensibility to it. The problem, and what separates this Wilco from previous outings, comes at the end of the song. Where a Yankee song might have ended with some tape loops and radio static, or a Ghost song might have closed with guitars overheating, “Impossible Germany” descends into a three-guitar solo. This doesn’t necessarily imply disaster, but the execution here results in the biggest stylistic misstep on Sky. Two of the guitars double up on a riff horrifyingly reminiscent of The Eagles ala “Life in the Fast Lane,” while a third struggles to achieve the sort of distortion tantrum found on many of the Ghost tracks. It is difficult to say which is the bigger shame: that they miss such a large target, or that they would even aim for such rock cliché.

The title track treads the same territory as Being There did more than 10 years ago. “What Light” revisits the spirit of the Woody Guthrie-penned Mermaid Avenue albums. This is not what anyone needs of a new Wilco record. “Side with the Seeds” is an enjoyable if unadventurous stab at soul music. Closer “On and On and On” opens with a promising, understated melodic tension, but after three minutes the music and lyrical content (with the unfortunate repetition of “yeah” after most lines) have gone nowhere

The under use of Glenn Kotche and newly added guitar phenom Nels Cline are criminal. It's not just that Kotche and Cline have the chops, but they can amorphously fit into whatever situation they are put (they both have first rate pedigrees working in avant, jazz, and rock). I'm not begging for Cline to resort to the guitar pyrotechnics he is clearly capable of here, but his remarkable penchant for teasing guitar textures out of his sizable pedal rig are no where to be found. Kotche's mind is absent, as well. Of the man who collects all sort of strange percussive odds and ends, imagines and invents new instruments (see the "inglenntations" from The Wilco Book), and played a kit composed entirely of floor toms for some of the YHF sessions, we get nothing. The drumming is competent and effortless, but there seems to be no room for imagination (or for that matter for fills). It’s almost as if Wilco properly recognized that the amount of talent in the room is a danger given its desire to stay grounded and defer always to the song at hand. But the result of their selflessness is lifelessness.

Tweedy has said that his lyrical approach on this album is more direct. OK, sure. But in the past, Tweedy earned his confessional moments by balancing them with opacity and ambiguity. Yankee finale "Reservations,” and its bare coda ("I've got reservations about so many things / but not about you") is sympathetic because it follows an album wherein "American aquarium drinkers" “assassin down the avenue.” For some of the tracks on A Ghost is Born, Tweedy tried to disassociate from his panic but writing from the perspective of animals and insects. The result is a compelling glimpse into his condition during the recording. For someone who has publicly trumpeted his belief that the listener completes the song, he gives us precious little space this time around. We’re left to feel like passive observers to his first-person confessionals. And it’s no great treat.

By Brandon Kreitler

Other Reviews of Wilco

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Wilco (The Album)

Read More

View all articles by Brandon Kreitler

Find out more about Nonesuch

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.