Graham Reid | | 2 min read
widely regarded one of the great rock bands Wilco -- the vehicle for
singer-songwriter Jeff Tweedy -- had its origins in the
Illinois-based band Uncle Tupelo which drew from post-punk rock and
alt.country music equally.
school friends Tweedy and Jay Farrar steered Uncle Tupelo from the
late 80s up to the acrimonious break-up in ‘94. They ticked off
four critically acclaimed but small selling albums (their best,
Anodyne, sold around 200,000) but the fighting -- often
physical -- became intolerable.
the band split Farrar formed Son Volt (half a dozen albums so far,
some solo releases by Farrar) and Tweedy lead Wilco, a group with a
revolving door membership.
and Uncle Tupelo fans invariably compared Wilco with Farrar’s Son
Volt (initially unfavourably) but things took a sharp turn when
keyboard player/guitarist Jay Bennett joined Wilco after their
faltering debut AM in ‘95.
follow-up was the fine double album Being There (‘96) but
after Summerteeth (’99) things went awry which, ironically,
made the band’s reputation.
the album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot they shifted from their
established style into something more experimental, much as Radiohead
had done for OK Computer. But during recording Tweedy
(increasingly melancholy and withdrawn) and Bennett (producing) fell
that -- and the record company politics -- was filmed for the doco I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. When the
album was rejected by their parent record company Warners they made
it available for download. Eventually, in a further irony, they ended
up on Nonesuch, a small label within the Warners group.
controversy, favourable reviews, the doco and the firing of Bennett (who died in 2009) put Wilco at the centre of media attention.
then Tweedy -- who grappled with various addictions, migraines and
depression -- seems to have beaten his demons, lightened up and the
album Sky Blue Sky (‘07) contained the telling lines “I
should be satisfied, I survived, that’s good enough for now”.
From an almost mute frontman Tweedy has become more outgoing, the band includes the superb guitarist Nils Cline, and they promise a new album soon.
But their current album Wilco (the album) -- while not the best of their long career -- is an excellent primer in Wilco's many and diverse styles and influences, while still sounding only like Wilco. And it is only $12.99 at JB Hi-Fi stores here.
Wilco story has been one of the more interesting in the past decade
and if you add in side-projects (with Billy Bragg on Woody Guthrie
songs), their classy DVDs, appearances with Neil Finn’s 7 Worlds
Collide project, and music which roams from sonic experimental to
pure country and blistering rock, they are band worth being