As the title suggests, Wilco’s latest album, Schmilco, is written with the awareness that there are many who would say that a new Wilco album is wholly unnecessary. Twenty-two years in, the Chicago-based band has achieved some of the highest critical acclaim of the 2000s, but has also earned the reputation of being overly serious and pretentious. Continuing the work started by last year’s surprise album Star Wars, Schmilco makes the case for why the world needs another Wilco album: because the band makes good music and has fun doing so.
Whereas Star Wars featured some of the wackiest and most eclectic Wilco tracks in recent memory, Schmilco is a slighter effort on the whole. Most of the 12 tracks are largely acoustic, with electric guitars being used for texture, if at all.
None of Wilco’s most loveable traits—their bizarre lyrical whim, their Americana-twinged rock, and their warm, vintage-sounding production value—are snuffed out in the process of going small. Frontman Jeff Tweedy has always had a knack for mixing in heavy themes with a more casual spirit.
Schmilco features self-reflection, heartbreak, anxiety, and grief but presents each in a way that makes these things seem normal. And that’s because they are. Tweedy and Wilco debunk the idea of the bleeding-heart songwriter pouring his/her pain into an album’s worth of tortured songs. Instead they create music that is more indicative of how the world operates amidst the positives and negatives in life. The sarcasm and sardonic wit of the lyrics give the songs the self-aware humor found in the title, creating a more welcoming atmosphere than some of the themes suggest.
This album is the result of a seasoned rock band still committed to bringing fine and well-crafted music that hits heavy themes without wallowing in them. Wilco Schmilco, indeed. (Anti Records)