Wilco - The Album 12"
Rock & roll lifers that they are, Wilco knows the implications of a self-titled album, how any record bearing an eponymous name is bound to be seen as a reintroduction. That's why they puncture Wilco (The Album) with a parenthetical aside, a slyly ironic joke that deflates the notion that Wilco is returning to its roots while signaling that the band is finally lightening up again, a notion reinforced by the camel birthday party on the cover. And, to be fair, "reintroduction" is indeed too strong a term for a band that never went away, they merely spent a decade-and-a-half on a walkabout, consuming anything that came their way, changing their tone and tenor from record to record. Wilco (The Album) finds Wilco the band happily returning from the wilderness, taking stock of where they've been and consolidating all they've learned into one tight, likeable record. (The Album) never veers too far into the experimental -- nor does it dabble in country-rock, a sound that's largely remained verboten in Wilco ever since their debut -- but the reverberations of the Jay Bennett era can be heard in how "Bull Black Nova" builds to a shuddering, noise-filled coda, or the band's general mastery of varying degrees of light and shade. All this studio texture is not the focal point, it's the coloring on a collection of straight-ahead rock and pop songs, tunes that are generally soft, sunny, and hazy -- quite exquisitely so on the '70s George Harrison pastiche "You Never Know" and the nearly Baroque "Deeper Down" -- but also jangly and sparkly, as on "Sonny Feeling," or that have some measure of backbone, as on the spiky "I'll Fight" and the cool shuffle of "Wilco (The Song)." If Wilco (The Album) as a whole is considerably less ambitious than its predecessors, it compensates with its easy confidence and craft: it's the work of a band that knows their strengths and knows what they're all about, and it's ready to settle into an agreeably comfortable groove.