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Review: Wilco’s ‘Schmilco’ Is Their Most Pastoral Album in Years

Our take on the latest from Jeff Tweedy and Co.

Review: Wilco Find a Peaceful Easy Feeling in 'Schmilco'

'Schmilco' is Wilco's 10th album.

Zoran Orlic

On “Normal American Kids,” the opener of Wilco’s 10th studio LP, Jeff Tweedy delivers maybe his most straightforward lyrics ever. Over coffee-house strums and muted electric-guitar lines that swirl like an old movie flashback, the singer recalls being a teenage stoner with a chip on his shoulder, getting high “behind the garden shed” and “under the sheets in my bedroom,” loathing the “normal” kids – but also fearing them and maybe, secretly, envying them.

Misfits of all ages should relate, and the reflective sentiment brands a deceptively pastoral Wilco record, their most folk-rockingly introspective since 2007’s Sky Blue Sky. It’s a nice follow-up to last year’s No Wave-y glam rush, Star Wars, a free surprise release that found them refreshingly noisy, energized and maybe a little bit defensive. (In some ways, it was their anti-“dad rock” record.) With a nod to Harry Nilsson’s pop-eccentric touchstone Nilsson Schmilsson, Tweedy’s mood is less self-conscious and more easygoing on Schmilco. His son Spencer plays drums on it, and it’s also salted with nostalgic in-jokes. “Shrug and Destroy” puns off the title of a Stooges anthem while musically recalling White Album balladry. “We Aren’t the World (Safety Girl)” invokes the superstar 1985 charity single, surveying a tough-guy candidate – Trump? Reagan? – and the singer’s Armageddon fantasies while showing gratitude to a lover. “If I Ever Was a Child,” all genteel guitar shimmer, and “Cry All Day,” riding a brush-beat freight-train rhythm, both look back stoically through tears. 

Along with its return to bedrock sounds, the album seems especially shaped by the Midwestern-ness that’s always defined the Chicago-based crew: their skepticism of fame, trend-mongering and empty rebellion; their Everyman work ethic and hometown pride – what some might describe as their “normalcy.” All this is a plus when they nail a classic like “Normal American Kids,” but can also make for music that occasionally verges on pleasant blandness.

Wilco are at their best when they subvert their conservative impulses: See “Locator,” with its loping bass line and guitar skronk, sounding like a matured sequel to the Pixies’ “Debaser.” Or “Common Sense,” a melodically and rhythmically woozy shout-out to that Middle American virtue, with marimbalike flourishes and insectile guitars rising like cicadas on a still summer night. “At the moment I’m bored, buried,” Tweedy intones, longing for “a burning bush or a button to push.” His solution, of course, is making songs – songs that might even inspire a solution of your own.

In This Article: Jeff Tweedy, Wilco

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