Thursday, January 03, 2008

Summerteeth
Wilco has been one of my favorite bands for more than five years now, since I picked up "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" in 2002. That album and the two that followed it have all ranked among my favorite albums of this decade, and after being very underwhelmed the first time I saw the band play live in 2002, I thought they were tremendous in a tough outdoor venue three years later. Wilco is the very rare band that can do it all: great, interesting writing and playing and compelling live performance, all while seeming to retain their humanity and humility. Among bands of this decade, only Guided by Voices also boasted all these elements.

But the one album of theirs I could never get into was "Summerteeth," the 1999 release that came between their breakthrough "Being There" (the only Wilco disc I still don't have) and "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot." A friend burned this for me a few years back, I popped it in and was immediately turned off by what I perceived as cheesy songwriting and overdone production. I buried the disc at the bottom of a pile, and there it stayed (through a move) until this morning, when I decided to rip it to the computer and give it another spin.

And it's awesome. I have no idea what the hell I was thinking with this. Maybe it was getting reintroduced to a couple of the songs ("Shot in the Arm," "Via Chicago") through the excellent live CD "Kicking Television," which I bought last summer. Maybe it's just the mysterious time-delay process of some good music that's initially slow to yield up its goodies. Maybe it's me, that my tastes have changed a little since I first heard the record. But "Summerteeth," for all its troubled gestation process (click the link) and experimentation--you hear how Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett were playing with some things that came to fuller fruition on "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot"--is a fully worthy entry in the band's impressive catalog.

2 comments:

The Navigator said...

Yay! Dave joins me in Summerteeth's corner! I might like some of the conventional aspects of it a bit more than you, but I love just about everything about it. James Surowecki wrote a piece a few years ago complaining that the album didn't work because the despondant lyrics didn't mesh with the upbeat, summery music, and I just think that's wrong, wrong, wrong. On the contrary, it makes for a great, I'm-so-happy-I-could-cry tension. IMHO. Also, I really can't explain why, but I think When You Wake Up Feeling Old is a really great song. Also How to Fight Loneliness. And Via Chicago. OK, I'll stop now.

David said...

Via Chicago rules, as does Shot in the Arm. But even the ones I used to really dislike sound pretty damn good to me now. You're right about the tension between the despondent lyrics and the upbeat usic.

I've got "Kicking Television" playing now, as homage to Obama's big win of course.