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It's as if Jeff Tweedy and Co. are doing some mid-life personal stocktaking
There’s a point on Schmilco when singer, songwriter and guitarist Jeff Tweedy says, “So sad that happiness depends on who you blame.” The song, Happiness, is among the darkest on a pretty stern, introspective album by a band that has been joking around a lot lately. Recent records have self-aware names like Wilco (The Album) and last year’s Star Wars, and a good chunk of their output and promo appearances have had quality doses of silliness.
Schmilco is also sly and great, but superficially it feels like complex, mid-life personal stocktaking. Normal American Kids and If I Ever Was A Child are quasi-nostalgic and reflective, grappling with alienation and the sense that we’re all always coming of age.
Tears flow within the latter song, leaking right through Cry All Day, which is pensive and rollicking, echoing the rumbling threat that drives the Beatles’ Get Back. In a direct abstraction wrapping up the song, Tweedy sings, “I cry, cry, cry all day, all night, into the light,” which is about as raw, vivid and mortal a lyric as he’s ever let loose.
There’s a lot of quietly bubbling noise on Schmilco. Common Sense, though led by a brooding, bluesy riff, is most distinctive for its fleeting, textural flourishes of percussion and bee-stinger guitars, along with Tweedy’s low-key gruff vocals. It’s elusive yet memorable.
Humorously, the album’s first solidly upbeat jam is called Nope, which has a Basement Tapes-y freedom and a sturdy if well-worn frame, punctuated by sad jokes like “Won’t you lend me my punchline?” The song opens up the record a bit to warm rockers like Someone To Lose that once again highlight the masterful bass playing of John Stirratt.
More than any Wilco record before, Schmilco dwells on the fact that life is funny but also heavy as hell.
Top track: Someone To Lose