2022, Music

Cruel Country (2022) by Wilco

Despite supposedly being a very big fan of this band, I completely ignored Ode to Joy. I think it’s because I mostly haven’t enjoyed their post Sky Blue Sky output.

When I first heard this record, I sighed. I thought “Not again” and sort of dismissed it. Given where I put this rating I’m not sure how low I was going to make my rating but I guess lower than this. Anyway…
I slowly realized that this is actually a bit of a left turn (at least from pre-Ode to Joy Wilco) and more than I was giving them credit for initially. So that’s something.

These are Tweedy’s most political songs. I don’t know if that’s a good thing entirely, but it’s notable. And makes for a change. Change is usually a good thing, especially for this band. They were once a band that changed with every record. That hasn’t been exactly true for the last decade, so it’s something (else).

The music isn’t pure country. There’s plenty of folk too. And some of the songs feel like they are neither folk nor country songs, but they are played as if they are. That is, of course, where we are in the world of genres right now – there are no pure genres any more and we shouldn’t expect it. But, if the point of this is to reclaim country for the libs (I’m partially joking) it’s a little weird that it isn’t pure country, isn’t it? (Maybe I’m misunderstanding the purpose.)

My biggest issue with this album, I think, is how undynamic it is. (I cannot come up with a better word right now.) There are at least two things I know about this, the longest running version of Wilco: there are six members, and they are a really good band. Neither of these things is particularly evident on most of this record. There are songs where I absolutely cannot hear all six members most of the time and sometimes I worry it’s a majority. Subtlety is all well and good, especially in country, but at times it’s utterly ridiculous here. What’s the point of having a sextet when it sounds like it’s a trio or a quartet much of the time?

I do wonder if this will grow on me, in part because it’s so distinct in terms of Tweedy’s songwriting. But, right now, I’m sure hoping I’m getting the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot 20th anniversary show this summer when they come to Toronto, rather than the Cruel Country show.

6?/10

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