26 January 2009

Listening Diary: Summerteeth, Wilco

There is a listserv called Postcardfromhell that is nominally devoted to the discussion of the erstwhile alt/punk/country band Uncle Tupelo (UT) as well as those bands formed from its remains. In reality, Postcard is a cornucopia of discussions, paeans, rants, elegies, flame wars, ego tripping and other forms of pathos that encompasses just about everything under the sun. If you are persistent you can find the whole, sad story of Uncle Tupelo, Wilco and Son Volt in the archives and FAQs of Postcard (or you can check out the Wikipedia entry). There are easily as many theories about the saga of these bands as there are former members of Wilco, but it's common to find a sort of Lennon fan/McCartney fan dynamic as relates to co-founders Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy. Who plays John and who Paul depends on which side of the fence you are on, but both men have their followings. It is kind of sad that their camps seem so antagonistic and divided, because both Son Volt (Farrar) and Wilco (Tweedy) have made some stellar music in the years after their apparently acrimonious split.

Summerteeth is Wilco's third album, made after Tweedy had left the influence of Farrar behind and before he fell under the influence of art/noise/post rock. As such it is arguably Tweedy's most honest expression of his musical sensibility, at least up to that point. Granted, if you read enough and listen to some of the music you might argue that Tweedy was under the influence of Jay Bennett's mellotron and maybe his drugs, too, but I'd counter that Bennett and Tweedy were more sympatico here than they were on the critically acclaimed Being There. Tweedy was always more prone to the pop side of UT's sound, and Summerteeth is the ultimate expression of that inclination. There are beautiful melodies here, and soaring harmonies that sound more like middle period Beatles than the Beach Boys that many critics seem to hear. There are also numerous examples of Tweedy's too-clever-turned-clunky turns of phrase, but these are more than made up for by the melodic invention and Tweedy's morose, soul-baring songs.

There are plenty of reviews of all of the material these bands have put on the table over the years, and you'd be well served to spend some time reading through them. Summerteeth is not by any stretch the best record among the UT/SV/Wilco canon--it's not even the best starting point to enter the fray. But it's still a damn fine record.

(info via last.fm)

Can't Stand It (LP Version)
3:46 4,075
She's A Jar (LP Version)
4:41 4,148
A Shot In The Arm (LP Version)
4:18 4,056
We're Just Friends (LP Version)
2:44 4,024
I'm Always In Love (LP Version)
3:40 4,127
Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway (Again) (LP Version)
3:19 3,973
Pieholden Suite (LP Version)
3:25 4,168
How To Fight Loneliness (LP Version)
3:52 4,380
Via Chicago (LP Version)
5:32 3,952
ELT (LP Version)
3:45 3,924
My Darling (LP Version)
3:37 4,202
When You Wake Up Feeling Old (LP Version)
3:55 4,189
Summer Teeth (LP Version)
3:19 4,256
In A Future Age (LP Version)
2:56 4,225
23 Seconds Of Silence (LP Version)
0:22 1,151
Candyfloss (LP Version)
2:56 3,965
A Shot in the Arm (Remix Version)
3:53 4,753

About this album

© Nonesuch (1999) Released: 9 Mar 1999 17 tracks (60:00)

No comments: