Friday, July 17, 2015

Wilco: A New Hope

Upon discovering that Wilco were giving away a surprise new album for free this morning, my first thought was: "Why the heck have they called it Star Wars?"

Having downloaded the album and listened to it twice, I'm still none the wiser on that front. Perhaps Jeff Tweedy is just really, really excited for The Force Awakens.

However, titular concerns aside, I'm pleased to report that Star Wars is actually a dang good album - certainly better than a free giveaway has any right to be. When I heard the news, I kind of assumed that this would just be some undercooked, mostly improvised 'gift to fans' that wouldn't really count as a proper Wilco album, but happily, Star Wars is a million miles from the tossed-off rubbish I feared it would be.

Not that EKG did anything to calm those fears. Much like the album itself, the opening track just sort of appears; it sounds like the band pushed 'Record' halfway through a particularly angular jam session, and this in medias res beginning - coupled with the fact that EKG is entirely instrumental - did have me worried that Wilco's ninth album would be completely devoid of any actual songs.

Fortunately, I was wrong. EKG is, in fact, the only lyric-free track on Star Wars; the others range from loud, rocky numbers (King of You, for example) to gentler alt. country cuts that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Being There (Taste the Ceiling).

My favourite thing about Star Wars (besides the fact that it cost me nothing) is how noisy it is. Noise was an element sorely lacking from Wilco (The Album) - the most recent Wilco record in my collection - and so I'm glad to see the band getting back to the squalling sound that helped to make Yankee Hotel Foxtrot such a masterpiece.

Speaking of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, you may well be wondering if there's anything on this new LP to match the likes of Poor PlacesAshes of American Flags, and all those other knee-wobbling Wilco classics. For me, the answer is no, but that's forgiveable considering that I wasn't expecting the album to contain anything worthwhile whatsoever, let alone eleven Heavy Metal Drummers. Besides, while Random Name Generator and You Satellite aren't quite as emotively majestic as the best bits of YHF,  they're still strong contenders for my 'Songs of 2015' list. Don't be surprised if they both show up in my rundown come December.

Star Wars is a surprise in every sense of the word - it's not just good for a free download, it's good for a Wilco album. U2 should take note: I'm far friendlier towards free albums when they aren't being forced onto my iPhone. And when they have half-decent artwork. And when the songs are, y'know, good.

Star Wars is currently available for free from Wilco's website.

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