Wilco

Don’t mess around with the Tweedinator.

Wilco the band photo

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Every post on this site is meant to be a constantly evolving diary of my musical views. Therefore, any and all posts should be considered incomplete at any given time.

I remember my high school anatomy teacher bringing Being There to school in 1997 or 1998, and I couldn’t really figure out what it was. Not country music, but kinda? Got into them myself 5 years later when YHF happened, which was a pretty amazing period. 

Wilco is the optimistic, American Radiohead, I guess. I’ve spent a lot of time with their music and that feels like a good description.

Wilco 2.0 = the post-Ghost lineup of Tweedy / Stirrat / Kotche / Cline / Sansone / Jorgensen » AMAZING LIVE BAND

ALBUMS

Wilco A.M. album cover

A.M.

Release Year: 1995
My Rating: B+
watch the review


Wilco's debut doesn't get the credit it deserves. It's just so different from the rest of their albums, a very straight-forward alternative rock record from the mid-90's, but DANG, the songs are SOOO GOOD. All things considered, it's one fantastic hybrid of power pop and alt-country, two genres that go together like PB and Chocolate. Amazing to say that, after all these years, this one is STILL growing on me...

HIGHLIGHTS: "I Must Be High", "Casino Queen", "Box Full of Letters", "Pick Up The Change", "Dash 7"

2017 DELUXE EDITION (B): Solid alt-country outtakes here. Nothing blows me away, but I think it's just further evidence that Wilco were a great band already when they made A.M., they were just bound to get even better over the next few albums.

Wilco Being There album cover

Being There

Release Year: 1996
My Rating: A+
watch the review


I'd say Being There exploded the notions of what alt-country could be, fully embracing studio experimentalism and landing in something absolutely magical, the essence of the Midwest. The songs are so warm, like a thousand sleepy Saturday mornings strung together into one long and lazy high school hang out. There's something child-like here, totally innocent, ready for the road trip, with no destination in mind, just the horizon. I love this record so much.

HIGHLIGHTS: "Misunderstood", "Far Far Away", "What's the World Got in Store", "Sunken Treasure", the rest

2017 DELUXE EDITION (A-): They left some pretty amazing stuff behind on their first classic album (a double one at that!). And the live show from 1996 is a fantastic document of Wilco when they were still just one of the great alt-country bands. HIGHLIGHTS: "Late Blooming Son", "Dynamite My Soul", "Losing Interest", "Sun's A Star", "Better When I'm Gone", "I Can't Keep From Talking", "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow"

Wilco Summerteeth album cover

Summerteeth

Release Year: 1999
My Rating: A-
watch the review


About Summerteeth, drummer Ken Coomer said "it was the sound of Tweedy and Bennett losing their minds in the studio". And I can totally see that. Summerteeth is all liftoff, but not all of it lands. Still, when it does, it leaves a mark. "A Shot In The Arm" and "I'm Always In Love" are nuclear power pop, "Via Chicago" is the template for LP4, and the rest of the songs are all pretty solid. But all at once, it can be a bit like chugging syrup. Still, despite the lack of balance, Summerteeth is something magnificent, and I have nothing but admiration for what Bennett and Tweedy aimed to accomplish here.

HIGHLIGHTS: "A Shot In The Arm", "I'm Always In Love", "Summerteeth", "Via Chicago", "When You Wake Up Feeling Old"

2020 DELUXE EDITION (TBD): Love the Jeff + Guitar demos most of all, but some of the alternate version are pretty interesting here. "Summer Teeth (Alternate)" almost sounds like a Christmas song! The live show is epic, just keeps going, a solid document of Wilco 1.0 right before it all fell apart. HIGHLIGHTS: "I'm Always In Love (demo)", "All I Need (demo)", "Two Guitars (Instrumental)", "No Hurry (demo)", "Summer Teeth (Slow Rhodes Version)", "Candy Floss (Intro)", "Summer Teeth (Alternate)"

Wilco Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album cover

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Release Year: 2001
My Rating: A+


I've got reservations about so many things...but not about YHF! Wilco gave America a warm and optimistic OK Computer, right in time for 9/11, saying goodbye to their past and hello to whatever their future might hold. Yankee is a total classic, and one of the great turning points in any band's catalog. It would take Tweedy a few more years to assemble the crack live outfit that is Wilco 2.0, but it all began here, and to this day, Wilco's 4th LP stands as monumental as the Marina towers that grace its cover. A masterpiece!

HIGHLIGHTS: "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart", "War On War", "Jesus Etc.", "Poor Places"

Wilco A Ghost Is Born album cover

A Ghost Is Born

Release Year: 2004
My Rating: B


This was and still is a disappointing album to me. Not that it's BAD, but given 1) the greatness of YHF and 2) the fact that Wilco as a band really came into their own just after this, GHOST feels like it could and should have been so much more. Case in point: "Handshake Drugs" here pales in comparison to both the More Like The Moon and Kicking Television versions. Furthermore, while the audio quality is high, the production feels FLAT to me. The live versions on Kicking Television really show what Tweedy was aiming for. It's a shame he didn't yet have Wilco 2.0 assembled when he recorded Ghost. It might have been as classic as YHF.

HIGHLIGHTS: "Spiders (Kidsmoke)", "Muzzle of Bees", "Wishful Thinking", "Company In My Back"

Wilco Sky Blue Sky album cover

Sky Blue Sky

Release Year: 2007
My Rating: B


Given that Sky Blue Sky is the first full-length to feature the crack live outfit that is Wilco 2.0, it comes off as a bit of a disappointment. While "Impossible Germany" is an all time great track for Wilco, the rest of the record seems to suffer from a lack of ambition, though there's no denying that it's totally gorgeous sonically. After 4 records that featured a good bit of studio experimentalism, I guess I can understand why Tweedy would want to do less of that, but the understated nature of Sky Blue Sky simply leaves me wanting a whole lot more.

HIGHLIGHTS: "You Are My Face", "Impossible Germany", "Leave Me (Like You Found Me)"

Wilco Wilco (The Album) album cover

Wilco (The Album)

Release Year: 2009
My Rating: B+


I wasn't a big fan of this album went it first came out - I had a long hangover from YHF - but as I listen to it now, it feels like Wilco 2.0's AM, a collection of great tunes that won't knock your socks off but manages to stay very consistent and listenable, and steadily grows on you with every spin. A lot of it is just very lovely and pleasant and familiar, like a visit with an old friend. Somehow, that totally fits with the Wilco aesthetic. And a sincere nod to the camel's humps, which just contains so much symbolism.

HIGHLIGHTS: "Wilco (The Song)", "Deeper Down", "Bull Black Nova", "You and I", "You Never Know"

Wilco The Whole Love album cover

The Whole Love

Release Year: 2011
My Rating: A-


Probably the best Wilco 2.0 studio album, it's the first and last tracks that most impress. "Art of Almost" finds them as experimental as their classic LP's (BT thru YHF), while "One Sunday Morning" is just a transcendent and beautiful extended folk jam, one of Wilco's greatest moments, one of the best album closers I've ever heard. A lot of other very solid tunes sprinkled throughout, and the band sounds great, especially the rhythm section. Really enjoyable record, another that tends to grow in my estimation with each listen.

HIGHLIGHTS: "Art of Almost", "I Might", "Born Alone", "Dawned On Me", "One Sunday Morning"

Wilco Star Wars album cover

Star Wars

Release Year: 2015
My Rating: B-


I feel like this is the album where Tweedy basically just said "Fuck it, I am who I am." The cover IS epic, and the music is...well, pretty OK, but nothing to write home about. Overall, to me, Tweedy seems a little bored, and the songs just sorta blend together. Nothing feels particularly inspired, nothing hits unforgettable, nothing even seems particularly interesting. Which leaves us Tweedy's melodies and a band that feels underused. I heard they recorded this one remotely. I'm not sure if that's true, but it sounds about right.

HIGHLIGHTS: "More", "Random Name Generator", "You Satellite"

Wilco Schmilco album cover

Schmilco

Release Year: 2016
My Rating: B+


I hear this was recorded at the same time as STAR WARS, which makes sense, as it feels like that album's low-key companion. I like SCHMILCO better, it's more tuneful, even if Tweedy still sounds kinda bored. I will say though: I DO LOVE THAT COVER » "Dad Rock", heh.

HIGHLIGHTS: "If I Ever Was A Child", "Someone To Lose", "We Aren't the World"

Wilco Ode to Joy album cover

Ode to Joy

Release Year: 2019
My Rating: C


Help me out here, Interwebs! It's Wilco, so I wanna appreciate it, but it doesn't make me feel a whole lot, certainly not joy. Things seem to be getting sleepy in Wilcoville. Nothing particularly lively or even sonically arresting here, with the exception of "Love Is Everywhere (Beware)".

HIGHLIGHTS: "Everyone Hides", "Love Is Everywhere (Beware)"

Wilco Cruel Country album cover

Cruel Country

Release Year: 2022
My Rating: C+


First half is CRUEL, second half is COUNTRY. Love the concept of a return to their alt-country roots, and there are flashes of brilliance, but the truth is this should have been much shorter and much jammier.

watch my video review »

HIGHLIGHTS: "Tired of Taking It Out on You", "Many Worlds", "A Lifetime to Find"

Cousin by Wilco album cover

Cousin

Release Year: 2023
My Rating: B


Wilco's latest dives deep into the increasingly quieter and more delicate sounds that they've been pursuing for what seems like the better part of the last decade. The songs are nice enough, but for me, it all feels very solo Tweedy. And as such, it's pretty good. But when I think of Wilco, I think of that amazing live band, and I can't help but think that albums like this reflect opportunities lost. Tweedy seems all restraint, when this band should be going for broke, at least on a few of the songs on each album. The sad thing for me is that I don't think he's ever really done that with this version of Wilco, except on The Whole Love, maybe. I just wish Tweedy would let go of the pristine production for a bit and unleash this band. I hate to say it, but Cousin just makes me miss that early Wilco sound even more. Still, like I said, it ain't bad, so Cousin gets a B from me. Hopefully it's a grower.

HIGHLIGHTS: "Evicted", "Soldier Child", "Meant To Be"

OTHER RELEASES

Billy Bragg & Wilco Mermaid Avenue Vol. I album cover

Mermaid Avenue

Release Year: 1998
My Rating: A


Come to think of it, I think "California Stars" may have been the first Wilco track that I really fell hard for. Isn't it just the breeziest? Of course, that was the age of Napster, and so I had no idea where that song of songs had come from. It wasn't off their LPs, as far as I could tell. It took me a little bit of searching to discover Mermaid Avenue, because back then you didn't have Discogs, Wikipedia, or YouTube. Of course, Mermaid Avenue is only half a Wilco record, but the tracks that feature Tweedy's vocals are all pretty great (except "Christ for President" which, to my mind, is just kind of stupid and sounds like filler). And Bragg's contributions do feel continuous with Wilco's (as does Natalie Merchant's "Birds and Ships"), to make this, I suppose, what it was supposed to be: a Woody Guthrie record filtered through the sensibilities of his musical progeny. As far as Wilco's career, I think Mermaid Avenue further expanded their stylistic palette, as this one feels rootsier than anything they had done before (especially "Hesitating Beauty" and "At My Window Sad and Lonely"). But it's the eternal Americana of "California Stars" that steals the show here, and reminds us of the importance of Mermaid Avenue in Wilco's career.

HIGHLIGHTS: "California Stars", "Hoodoo Voodoo", "At My Window Sad And Lonely", "Birds and Ships", "Way Over Yonder In the Minor Key"

Billy Bragg & Wilco Mermaid Avenue Vol. II album cover

Mermaid Avenue Vol. II

Release Year: 2000
My Rating: B


Heavier on Braggs vocals, but the pure Wilco moments are all pretty great. Was it worth a Volume 2? I guess the suits thought so, but I wonder if the artists couldn't have just gone ahead with the boxset (eventually released in 2012). As far as Wilco's contributions go, there are 3 great ones and a handful of forgettable ones. The 3 greats are "Airline to Heaven" (the most Uncle Tupelo-esque track Tweedy has recorded in Wilco), "Secret of the Sea" (a great power-pop cut), and "Remember the Mountain Bed" (which feels really pleasant).

HIGHLIGHTS: "Airline to Heaven", "Secret of the Sea", "Remember The Mountain Bed"

Wilco More Like The Moon EP album cover

More Like The Moon EP

Release Year: 2003
My Rating: A


I really love this little EP. The version of "Handshake Drugs" is better than the one on A Ghost Is Born, and the title track is one of Wilco's most underrated cuts.

HIGHLIGHTS: "Handshake Drugs (first version)", "Magazine Called Sunset", "More Like The Moon"

The Wilco Book with CD

The Wilco Book CD

Release Year: 2004
My Rating: C


Not much to write home about here - just a lot of experimentation from the Ghost sessions.

HIGHLIGHTS: "Diamond Claw"

Wilco Kicking Television: Live in Chicago album cover

Kicking Televsion (Live in Chicago)

Release Year: 2005
My Rating: TBD


I'm normally not a big fan of live records. Too often they feel obligatory, and the performances flat. Wilco's Kicking Television contradicts that tendency. Being the first official release of Wilco 2.0, it set the precedent for the band being one of the best live acts around. In particular, the songs of A Ghost Is Born sound better and livelier than their studio incarnations, and even the material from the band's classics sounds renewed, revitalized, and re-envisioned. Instead of seeming like an afterthought, Kicking Television is one of the most vital records in the band's catalog.

HIGHLIGHTS: TBD

Wilco Alpha Mike Foxtrot album cover

Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994–2014

Release Year: 2014
My Rating: A


Hard to argue with 4 discs of Wilco rarities. It's amazing how much great stuff gets left behind by this band, but what's perhaps even more amazing is how many great rarities aren't collected here. Anyway, here's a list of my favorite stuff from this collection:

  • "Promising"
  • "The T.B. Is Whipping Me"


HIGHLIGHTS: "Cars Can't Escape", "Panthers", "The T.B. Is Whipping Me", "Thirteen"

MISCELLANEOUS / RELATED

  • much more coming soon

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BOKY RATINGS GUIDE

Here’s my totally scientific method for grading albums. I’m sure you’ll find it revolutionary:

  • A+: CLASSIC album – I revere this bad boy.
  • A: GREAT album – a repeat listener from start to finish.
  • B: GOOD album – I’ll probably listen again at some point.
  • C: MEH album – not awful, but I have no desire to listen again.
  • D: BAD album – not sure why anyone would listen to this.
  • F: TRULY AWFUL album – monumentally bad and offense against music.

Gradations between letters (A-/B+/B-/C+) simply indicate it’s somwhere between the two letters.