I was watching an episode of Shameless the other day when one of its teenaged characters dismissed Wilco as something along the lines of “dad rock”. Now as much as I like Wilco, I kind of agree with that. I also think that there’s nothing wrong with “dad rock”. Shameless meant it as boring and stale. I see it as mature and nuanced. I was 20sih when Yankee Hotel Foxtrot came out, and despite the universal praise, I found it pretentious, boring and aimless. In my late 20s, I gave it another go and all of a sudden was blown away by the intricate song writing, impressive production and complex instrumentation.
But last week, these kings of dad rock proved they’re still in touch with how the kids listen to music in 2015. Like Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar before them, Wilco dropped a new album with no warning. And to even more tap into the meme obsessed world of today, they called it Star Wars and whacked a kitty cat on the cover. These dads are still hip with the kids alright.
After the pointless noise of EKG, we get into the album proper with the Beatles-esque trippyness of More…, before the electric guitar pop perfection of Random Name Generator. Even once I learned to like Wilco, I still thought they indulged a little too much in sad sackery. Then a few years ago, their self-titled album was full of upbeat fun. The opening tracks on Star Wars definitely come from more of that happy place. And I dig it.
Because this is Wilco and Jeff Tweedy, you know there’s gonna be at least an allusion to alt-country music at some stage. And when it shows up on The Joke Explained, it’s a welcome return of a standard Wilco sound, that totally fits with the newer vibe established by Star Wars in this opening third.
Considering my thoughts on Lou Reed, this could sound like a slam, but I mean it as a real compliment. You Satellite has a real Lou Reed feel to it, but it comes completely from Tweedy’s vocals. The music behind it is pure Wilco at their patient, contemplative, building, repetitive best. After more Wilco-ness turned up to its most Wilco on Taste the Ceiling, the distorted bass and falsetto vocals of Pickled Ginger are the biggest departure from the band’s staple sounds. And while I don’t need to hear an entire album of this kind of thing, its unexpected weirdness is a cool new dimension for these guys.
They’re titled separately, but Cold Slop and King of You are basically one long song, bringing this record home with the driving rhythm section taking front and centre. While Tweedy’s vocals and the sliding, country-fied guitars shine here and there, these songs are all about the drum and bass. All before closing out with the melancholic mediation of Magnetized, complete with the spooky but hypnotic sound of a saw being played with a bow, and some lush orchestration for good measure.
With Star Wars, Wilco have done nothing to fight off the accusations of being dad rock. But like I said, that’s not a bad thing. Wilco are the best kind of dad rock you could ever hope for. These aren’t young dudes, they’re older guys, seasoned campaigners who perfected their thing a long time ago. The best thing about Star Wars though, is that their age and experience hasn’t stopped them from finding new ways to do their thing. Star Wars is most definitely a Wilco record, but that doesn’t mean it’s just the same old, same old.
Download Star Wars for free now at Wilco