Monday, March 08, 2004

#50) Wilco - Summerteeth (released in 1999, I bought a copy on CD that year after listening to my college radio station's copy a ton)

1999. That’s the last year (as of today) where I’m embarrassed by some of art that I revered at the time. I thought Midnite Vultures and The Soft Bulletin were legendary breakthroughs in pop music, rather than chickenshit Bowie and Supertramp 2K. I thought movies like Fight Club and American Beauty were startling revelations of our cultural ennui, rather than drudging, simplistic and underthought absurdities. Then I got a girlfriend and everything changed.

I’m still sentimental enough to love Magnolia and High Fidelity though, and I still find stunning beauty in deconstructive masterpieces like 69 Love Songs and Summerteeth. Since their debut, which descended into ponderous No Depressioneering after three great country rockers, Wilco have been the best thing the Midwest has had to offer our culture (with the possible exception of Nelly). Though Being There and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot suffer from overambitious indulgence (does every song on YHF have to end with stumbling noise?), Jeff Tweedy and his musical cohorts have crafted eccentric arrangements in a manner that utilizes decades of American sound without ever sounding like a mere pastiche, thanks to the strong, memorable songwriting. Summerteeth is the least self-conscious of their three great albums, and easily my favorite.

Tweedy’s had a knack for tender, thoughtful, image-filled songs that are both quick-witted and vulnerable since his time in Uncle Tupelo (Jay Farrar’s material feels painfully cornpone in comparison), but pep isn’t something that comes naturally to self-aware record nerds like him. That’s part of what makes the swelling energy behind “A Shot In The Arm” or the shining pop-country-rock of “I’m Always In Love” and “ELT” so astounding. Even a ballad like “How To Fight Loneliness” doesn’t petrify like so many alt-country peddlers. To be honest, this is the album where Wilco loses their claim on the alt-country tag, keeping the mature beauty associated with the genre while casting aside anything that feels purist or wooden. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’s victory in the 2002 Pazz’n’Jop poll has inspired a vicious backlash that will probably get stronger if their upcoming ’04 album is even more ponderous (hell, I even booed Tweedy’s smug self-satisfaction when they played in town and if you're POV is All Stones No Beatles then don't even bother with these guys), but most of the accusations thrown their way fail to resonate while Summerteeth is spinning on my CD player.

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