Age is simply a persistence of time and development of one’s self through both the highlights and lowlights. For Jeff Tweedy and Co., “Schmilco” provides the antithesis to this progression; settling down with their “dad rock” identity that provided their genesis back in 1995 with “A.M.”
In their tenth record, Wilco crafts a sonic image that pays homage to the youthfulness of society and harkens a much simpler time where one went home when the street lights went out and biking was the only way of getting around.
This message couldn’t be more evident in the record’s opening track,”Normal American Kids,” which alludes a folk-centric tone backed by a lightly strummed electric guitar courtesy of guitar virtuoso, Nels Cline. However, Tweedy brings a dimension to this song that makes it a highly symbolic opening track, alluding to a past he will never get back, “Shaft in a sling, head for the bus/ I knew what I liked was not very much/ High at the time, tied to the grid/ Always afraid of those normal American kids.”
Wilco’s mostly-acoustic approach counters the boisterous and snidely bitter “Star Wars,” which was released unannounced last year to critical acclaim. Where “Star Wars” symbolizes a road-worn effort at modernization, “Schmilco” opts for a silent testimony that characterizes their roots in Chicago, a city known for its nurturing twang, yet rebellious attitude.
“Locator,” the first single released prior to the record, offers a bass-fueled glance at the blend of western alternative rock and southern country that Tweedy seamlessly strings together, even though the lyrical composition is the simplest on the record.
Escape is the established theme of the record, woven throughout every piece despite Tweedy’s attempt to evade this unknowing past, leaving the listener with questions as to exactly what he could be running from. The escape though comes to an end as Tweedy relinquishes himself in the hallucinogenic “Just Say Goodbye,” in which Wilco’s fearless leader proclaims “I fight to stay awake/ Here I lie, come and take me/ I’ll go/ I will go so far just to say goodbye.”
Additionally, acclaim must be placed on drummer Glenn Kotche for his masterful drumming, which is one of the prime attractors for the Wilco fanbase. On “Cry All Day,” Kotche provides a meticulously executed rhythm that bounces with each strike of the snare and deliverance of the chorus. Kotche also ushers in his signature flair on “Nope,” a piece that will have any listener clamoring for more of that country attitude.
The standout track though is found with “If I Ever Was A Child,” which boasts the gentlest sounding Wilco that any listener has heard since “Sky Blue Sky” and one of the best mixed compositions since their 2002 hallmark, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.” Tweedy places the lyrics together like puzzle pieces, spawning a piece that is greater than the sum of its rhythmic and lyrical components.
“Schmilco” is in fact a return to form from the guys over at Wilco. If you were a fan who dropped off after “A Ghost is Born” or simply have never heard of Tweedy and Co., this record is the ultimate trip down Wilco’s rabbit role.