For a band that’s had as long and acclaimed a career as Wilco has, what is there left to write? The band began with its roots in post-Uncle Tupelo alt-country, then began incorporating experimental elements into their music and quickly becoming one of modern indie rock’s most notable pioneers. Still, there reaches a certain point in any band’s career — especially one that has spanned over two full decades — where one wonders just how much further it can go; be that sonically, emotionally, or in sheer influence alone.
For Wilco, however, the band has never worried about such things. Wilco will release whatever Wilco wants, and that’s a big part of what has made them so beloved during their 21-year career. They have never shied away from letting you know exactly where they stand, whether you like it or not.
The tongue-in-cheek has never been foreign territory for Wilco, and the band’s 10th album Schmilco is no exception. The album title itself — and its delightfully macabre cover art designed by Spanish illustrator Joan Cornellà — seems to show a band who refuses to take itself seriously.
But what if Schmilco is the band taking itself as seriously as it should? Over the last few years, frontman Jeff Tweedy has generally toned down his songwriting structure, happily exchanging the hyper-overdriven guitar solos for smooth, acoustic licks – while still being true to the band’s sound. In the wake of 2015’s bizarre, fuzzed-up Star Wars, Schmilco is a safe release; the album sees Tweedy and company coloring entirely within the lines, content with holding their punches and creating sunny, melody-driven indie pop.
Schmilco is also possibly the band’s most accessible and immediately enjoyable since 1995’s A.M. The entire album feels nostalgic, with the wonderful "If I Ever Was A Child" serving as its centerpiece. Tweedy begins the song singing, "I never was alone / Long enough to know / If I ever was a child," before hitting home in the chorus with, "And I cry like a window pane / Can my cold heart change / Overnight? / So I won't ever want to touch / Your heart too much / Or hold you too tight."
The musical tone of the album feels lighthearted, but the lyrical content is largely contemplative. "Nope" is a jaunty blues number where Tweedy sings about rain that "laughs and shakes my folded face where Jesus mowed my lawn," and "Happiness" tells a world-weary view of the emotion itself: "Happiness depends on who you can blame."
While the album may not pack the punch of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or A ghost is born, it is still a solid — if slightly unspectacular — entry into the immense discography of Wilco. Schmilco is like sitting on a porch in the spring; easy, relaxing, and full of exactly zero surprises — but it’s enjoyable nonetheless.
by Trevor Paxton
Song You Need To Hear: "If I Ever Was A Child"