Music » Critics' Picks

Wilco with the Preston School of Industry

Tuesday, July 23; Pageant

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If you're a St. Louis rock fan, you know the story of Jeff Tweedy's ascent. You've read about it in Rolling Stone, the New York Times, the New Yorker and probably even Jugs: Wilco, fronted by former Bellevillian/Uncle Tupeloian Tweedy, makes a strange, beautifully oblique record, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but the band's label rejects it as uncommercial. Tweedy buys it back and shops it, and the band lands at AOL Time Warner's prestige label, Nonesuch. The record debuts on the Billboard charts at number thirteen and is soaked with critical praise. Tweedy wins.

But underneath the compelling story is this record, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The praise has been deafening, but is it all that? Yes and no. YHF is an awkward pop-rock creation, filled with drama that occasionally lapses into melodrama. Tweedy's male, and his lyrical confessions are typical of the species: a guy trying really hard in a pinch to communicate his feelings but lacking the verbal precision to say what he means. In the process, though, he reveals himself, and what he reveals seems true, at least enough to strike a nerve with middle-aged white-guy music critics and the women who (seldom) love them.

Emotionally, the record recalls Big Star's Sister Lovers -- it's soft, sad and pretty; Tweedy's gentle and open like Alex Chilton, aching to reveal, hoping to relieve. Sonically, the album's overflowing with piano plonks, melodic stumbles and tentative glimpses. This skewed sensibility is a minirevelation. And more even than the loss of longtime Wilco member Jay Bennett last year, the addition of drummer Glenn Kotche has drastically changed Wilco's vibe -- gone are the boring days of thump-snare-thump-thump-snare; in its stead, true action drumming. The result: more epiphany than oblivion, a ton of pleasant melody and a mountain of wonder.

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