This 12th LP is the Chicago band’s most poignant since Sky Blue Sky
Wilco has always been, at its root, a country band who dabbled in dadaism and noise rock.
But not since at least Being There has Jeff Tweedy and co. sounded more honky tonk than they do on their 12th LP, Cruel Country. Thank you to the Internet Godz for blessing me with a free weekend listen, because $17 is quite a steep ask for just digital files. I cannot wait until it comes out on CD and vinyl, and I will be pre–ordering with bells on the second they announce physical copies will be made available.
The current expensiveness of the album might want you to hold off on pulling the trigger from spending that much money on nothing much at all, but you are going to want to play the hell out of Cruel Country on your favorite streaming service, that’s for damn sure. It’s great to hear Tweedy realign his stars with such heroes as Alex Chilton and Gram Parsons once again as he and the band shuffle through 21 songs that find Wilco returning to the country purity they embraced upon Tweedy and longtime bassist John Stirrat’s split from alt-country pioneers Uncle Tupelo.
Album: Cruel Country
Label: dBPM Records
★★★★★ (5/5 stars)
“I think there’s been an assumption over the years that Wilco is some sort of country band,” Tweedy wrote in a prepared statement independently acquired from Rock & Roll Globe from a trusted source. “There’s a lot of evidence to support that way of thinking about our band because there have been elements of country music in everything we’ve ever done. But to be honest, we’ve never been particularly comfortable with accepting that definition of the music we make. With this album though, I’ll tell you what, Wilco is digging in and calling it country.”
For Tweedy, returning to the sound that defined his band’s initial phase made it easier for him to address the many political elephants in the room through material like “Hints,” “Bird Without A Tail / “Base Of My Skull” and the exceptional “A Lifetime to Find,” where Tweedy ponders, “Death never rests / I can see you’ve done your best / The problem is just this / It’s too late for regrets / I am here to collect.” Got that, Senator?
VIDEO: Wilco “Tired Of Taking It Out On You”
“Because it is the country I love, and because it’s country music that I love, I feel a responsibility to investigate their mirrored problematic natures,” he wrote. “I believe it’s important to challenge our affections for things that are flawed.”
“I love my country–stupid and cruel,” Tweedy sings on the title track, a sentiment so many of us feel but cannot articulate as our nation slouches slowly towards Idiocracy. But the way by which this particular iteration of Wilco–Tweedy, Stirratt, guitarists Nels Cline and Pat Sansone, drummer Glenn Kotche and keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen–have been allowed to grow and evolve over 15 years and six excellent-to-eccentric albums has coincidentally enough led them back to where Wilco once began.
Like pro wrestling and quality BBQ, country music offers a bridge of civility and kinship between the red and blue states that’s bigger than the voice of any media pundit, be it Newsmax or The Medias Touch.
And there’s enough quality material on this album to hopefully perhaps maybe change one mind on the other side of our great divide.