Wilco: Ode to Joy | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Friday, December 13th, 2019  

Wilco

Ode to Joy

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Oct 03, 2019 Issue #66 - My Favorite Album - Angel Olsen and Sleater-Kinney Bookmark and Share


Considering the cryptic nature of now-legendary Chicago band Wilco and the enigmatic charm of its leader Jeff Tweedy, Ode to Joy may at first seem an overt kind of title—a rage against the dying of the light; a reminder, in a time of sorrow, that there is indeed goodness and happiness in the world. Nice and simple, one might think.

Yet things are never that straightforward with Wilco. This record is a subdued, staggering march of sadness that starts unbelievably soft. Its opening quartet is a slow burn which, following the stark, metronomic "Bright Leaves," the ramshackle country of "Before Us," and the minor key bedroom loveliness of "One and a Half Stars," eventually flowers partway through the majestic "Quiet Amplifier," with its building, carefully crafted crescendo and tender sentiment "Prayers run along the wires/Honey, no train's going to come/I have waited my whole life/I've tried in my way to love everyone."

Some songs here, such as "Citizens," are almost too delicate to be observed clearly. It's an album that feels like a visit from a friendly specter; a record that speaks to the thin layer of hope that separates us from insanity at this point in history, yet it's a set of songs sometimes so frail as to almost disappear.

The richness and hidden textures of Tweedy's clipped, whispered melodies is revealed only on repeated listening; Nels Cline's magnificence hidden in plain sight until the fireworks of "We Were Lucky"; the band playing what feel like bare bones, song sketches, all extraneous flourishes eradicated. Yet some of the more accessible, pop-tangential elements of the band's sound have also been partly shorn—"Everyone Hides" for instance, a solemn warning to those seeking stardom or, perhaps, redemption. "If you're selling yourself on a tale/Here the details drift with time/Where the point gets lost in the telling/And the telling was the point all the while," could have easily been swept into an anthem chorus but instead, it coolly and cleverly broods, intimate and tender.

However, "Love Is Everywhere (Beware)" has an inescapably brilliant guitar hook and warm, embrace of a vocal from Tweedy as he coos "Right now love is everywhere" during the enveloping country-chorus. It's hashtag ClassicWilco and this proves neatly how these boys can break out the big guns when they so choose.

Tweedy still loves to linger on death (the rustic "White Wooden Cross"), bittersweet loss (album closer, the magnificently beautiful "An Empty Corner"), and, on the soulful strum of "Hold Me Anyway," where he croaks "I think it's poetry and magic/Something too big to have a name" we're treated to some high strangeness indeed.

Ode to Joy is a seemingly small-scale record; a pale-skinned beauty of an album that has much to say, says it deliberately, often quietly; like a whisper of advice from an old friend reminding you that you, me, we... need to carry on. (www.wilcoworld.net

Author rating: 7.5/10

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