Strawberry Fields Forever - Nothing is real

Monday, June 04, 2007

I am an American aquarium drinker...

Memory Almost Full may be the album I was most looking forward to this year, it wasn't the only one. Thanks to my friend Matteen - Wilco has been on my radar (or is it sonar) for the last several years. He first introduced me to (likely) their most well known album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - which was likely a mistake. Don't get me wrong, it's a good album - and certainly a lot more interesting and adventurous than most albums of their contemporaries or even a lot of the bands I truly love - but it's not really the album I would try to introduce Wilco with. For that purpose, I would likely go with Being There or (my favorite album of theirs) Summerteeth. Yankee though has more than its share of incredible moments - especially the aching beauty of "Radio Cure".
While I may have a few small "Reservations" (yeah, the pun is intended) about the LP, the film made of the making of the album is really quite remarkable. Of course, I'm referring to "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart", and I highly recommend it for anyone who either already likes Wilco, or thinks they might want to give them a try. If you're in the former camp and (somehow) haven't seen the film yet - do so. You will like it. It's very much like watching "Let It Be" for me, but with a happier ending, and with a band that I don't quite care as much about. However, much like "Let It Be", on a musical front one is treated to alternate arrangements that usually are inferior to the final incarnations, but are always fascinating and frankly rather good on their own. For the uninitiated to Wilco, you get (rather great) live versions of their earlier works intercut throughout the film showing the band capable of "rocking out" a lot more than their records normally suggest.
However, while "Let it Be" showed a band struggling to be a band, and falling apart at the collective weight of their expectations, ambivilance and individual egos - this film is more about a struggle for a band to stay true to itself despite the overwhelming pressures of an increasingly corporatized record business, health issues for their band-leader Tweedy, and a few ego clashes. (which were shown amazingly even-handedly even though the aftermath of the album was the firing of one of the two involved in the clashes) However, much like "Let It Be", there is some really wonderful music involved in it all. There's no rooftop concert, but at the end of the this film, you know the band has won in its struggle, has released their "biggest" album up to that point, and will do quite well.

Grade for "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" - B+

(Yankee Hotel Foxtrot would probably be a B)

Now, since I referenced this at the start, I should also talk about Wilco's new album, "Sky Blue Sky" which came out recently. I'm not entirely sure what to make of this - except that I know I like the album. From the standpoint of analysis, I am not sure if they are retreating to the safer sounds of their earlier albums like U2 did with "All That You Can't Leave Behind", or if they are boldly turning a new step forward like the Rolling Stones with "Beggar's Banquet", Dylan's "John Wesley Harding" or even the Beatles' self-titled double album. Maybe in the end, all of these "retreats" towards earlier sounds are the same, and its one's own opinion of the result which colors whether we see the moves as bold or weak. In this case though, I see the move as neither.
Unless the band wanted to try to push the boundaries of popular music like Radiohead did with "Kid-A", or try for an entirely different genre, it wasn't clear where Wilco could go from "A Ghost Is Born". Instead, in terms of sound and lyrics, it seems like the bizarre offspring of "Being There" and "A Ghost Is Born" - the lyrics are almost as obtuse and ambiguous as "A Ghost Is Born", but the sound is far more organic. Also, the guitar work on several songs really is wonderful. "On And On And On" is a truly beautiful song about a son comforting his widowed father, and most of the rest of the album is good as well - but nothing else matches that emotional impact. Only "Shake It Off" really begs to be skipped.
Much like "Memory Almost Full", I have listened to this album more than enough times to feel confident in my view that the album is very good, and had "Memory Almost Full" not been in this year's releases, may have been a contender this year.

Grade: B+


  • How do I send you a private message.

    Have read your blog and am inviting you to join us in a Beatles/Macca forum.
    We are international and apolitical
    and just love the Boys.

    we share their ORIGINAL music(not a torrent)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:00 AM  

  • I have finally started reading your blog again!

    hope philly is treating you well. I can't believe you are going to korea!

    By Blogger Matteen, at 6:36 PM  

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