The career resuscitation of Wilco following the release of the rightly hailed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was a joy to behold. From being dropped by a short sighted record label to the redemption they found proving the doubters wrong, via losing key band members and being celebrated by the notoriously fickle music press, it must have been a wild ride. The follow up album A Ghost Is Born was a more focused and darker retread and dabbled with extended song structures. Personally I rather liked it, but it was obvious that Wilco’s next album would have to be a slight change of mood and pace to ensure that the creative momentum was maintained.
Sky Blue Sky found Wilco in a much more mellow mood with simpler song structures and a much more organic sound. While many of the fans they had picked up following the release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot were disappointed that they were no holding down one note on a keyboard for eleven minutes a time, I appreciated the back to basics approach that they had taken. It was as if Jeff Tweedy and his cohorts had just stood looking at each other in the studio and realised that it would be a good idea to record an album of material that they would be able to play live with the least amount of samplers, sequencers and other technical gizmos possible. This minor revelation may have been the moment that Wilco managed to avoid disappearing up their fundamentals Radiohead-style.
As a result of all this Sky Blue Sky is a nice collection of songs. They’re not trying to be striking and stand out from the crowd. Wilco are just reminding the world that not only are they sonic adventurers, but Tweedy is a damn good songwriter too. It’s all well and good being a cutting edge act in the studio, but at the end of the day music fans still want something that they can sing along to.
Granted, I was initially underwhelmed by this album, but over the years great songs like “Either Way”, “Sky Blue Sky”, “Please Be Patient With Me”, “Hate it Here”, “Leave Me (Like You Found Me)” and even “Walken” have revealed themselves in a new light to me as some of the most fantastic ‘relationship’ songs of recent years.
Wilco are a band that seem to be comfortable changing pace from album to album, which has resulted in a variable body of work over the years. If you’ve only heard one Wilco album and didn’t connect with it, I’d encourage you to try another at random as it may engage you in a way that the previous one didn’t. For me personally, I’ve listened to this band for six years now and in that time, Sky Blue Sky has established itself as one of my favourite Wilco albums. While their more adventurous albums could show their age as time passes, the simple songcraft of this release should ensure that it ages better than anything else in their canon.