I Believe in Low Commotion


Sky Blue Sky, Wilco
[Nonesuch]


Talk about setting yourself high standards: I'd wager that in 20 years or so A Ghost is Born (from 2004) will be Wilco's entry in the pantheon of top 100 albums-of-all-time polls. Written in the pall of lyricist / singer Jeff Tweedy's addiction to painkillers as a result of severe migraines, it has an honesty and abandon to it, with widely noted references to Neil Young, Kraftwerk and, perhaps, Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden. Its inclusion of a 10 minute feedback drone displays the band's confidence, and the record has a full, organic sound reminiscent of vinyl. Lyrics that include

     So he slept on a mountain.
     In a sleeping bag underneath the stars
     he would lie awake and count 'em
           ('Hummingbird')

'just another rash of kidsmoke' and 'it's good to be alone' ('Spiders') amaze, and recently provided a name for Simon Aldred's 'Cherry Ghost' project.

So this is Tweedy's John Wesley Harding
then, recovered from his addictions and winking at us from the inlay? Certainly there's a deliberateness - even a lumpeness on some tracks - to this music. Tweedy refers to his past 'rotten times' with drunks 'ricocheting' the walls, and meets the present with 'that's good enough for now' equanimity.
 
First thoughts on hearing Sky Blue Sky
? It's definitely good, but lacking the sonic punch - the kick - of A Ghost is Born. It sounds mostly like it was played sitting down (a band photo of the sessions suggests as much) and its restraint, with strings arranged by Jim O'Rourke, often recalls Lambchop, albeit with Wilco's trick of repeatedly striking a chord to lift a track out of its orbit.

Immediate highlights: the entrance of the drums as Tweedy sings 'Maybe the sun will shine' on opener 'Either Way'; the Garth Hudson-style organ on the same track; the long poem 'You Are My Face' (Tweedy's lyrics have appeared in American poetry journals) with its Byrds-like underwash of picked guitar; the beautiful 'Impossible Germany' with its Steely Dan-reminiscent duelling guitars and a fragile lyric about falling in love,

     But this is what love is for
     to be out of place
     gorgeous and alone
      face to face

; the lovely eponymous track. These are followed by a slight lull in terms of musical variation broken by the melody of 'Hate it Here', an excellent exercise / genre song about a guy keeping house to distract himself from the fact that his girlfriend has left him, before the final two tracks, anthemic 'There's a Light' and insistent closer 'On and On and On' round the collection. Amidst these, 'Please Be Patient With Me' and 'Leave Me As You Found Me' are almost Tweedy solo performances.

Tweedy, (featured in several guises in the first season of Bob Dylan's 'Theme Time Radio Hour') makes several lyrical nods to Dylan's later work here. The refrain 'That's good enough for now' (from 'Sky Blue Sky') echoes the last line of 'Highlands', closer to 1997's Time Out of Mind
; and in 'Shake It Off' when Tweedy compares a hotel to a 'giant beast of many souls' before reflecting 'No / Just a body / Full of holes,' that 'No' is lifted straight out of 'Spirit on the Water' from Modern Times.

Sky Blue Sky? Another solid entry in Wilco's canon, though one which often pushes the poetry to the front. Mind you, Tweedy's lyrics have a way of staying with you, and I can't stop listening to several tracks on this album. And just how good is 'Impossible Germany'?
 
     Matt Bryden 2007