WILCO – Schmilco (Anti/Epitaph): Delineating Wilco’s albums according to sound would be a tired trope by now if it weren’t so useful. Recorded during the same period as the skronky and short Star Wars, Jeff Tweedy and crew’s tenth outing (not including Mermaid Avenue) is subdued but not without surprises. It bears no similarity to the similarly-titled Nilsson Schmilsson, of which Tweedy is reportedly an admirer: Nilsson’s delivery is bold, buoyant, and flamboyant, whereas Tweedy’s is hushed and huffed out in whispers. Schmilsson at times features guitar, piano, and horns, where Schmilco is mostly acoustic guitar lightly strummed. But it’s probably that trying to find any parallel between the two is about as fruitful as pondering how Star Wars connects with George Lucas’s vision.
Instead you’re left pondering what’s got Tweedy in such a dour mood. Every song he hits you with some reflection that’s both easy to identify with yet shame-making at the same time. “Always hated those normal American kids,” he admits on the opener, resigning himself to his room to get stoned and feel superior. “I never was alone long enough to know if I ever was a child,” he concedes, something unknowable in itself. In a darkly comedic turn, he tells too-hip kids sweating in sweaters “I hope you find someone to lose someday,” and even though as usual several songs are stuffed with patented Tweedy pretzel-knot phrases, it’s clear enough that his reflections on his youth and his talk of mortality in even slighted ways has got him thinking about the grave as he ages over the bell curve. Mostly, though, this is a quiet Wilco album. What do you want? It’s a Wilco album. It’s just fine. B PLUS (**)