MUSIC REVIEW | Wilco – Summerteeth (1999)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “It’s pure Wilco, presented in a really unique way, and I loved it.”

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From reading the Wikipedia entry for this record, it seems like Summerteeth was more of a collaboration than other Wilco albums before and since.  I get the impression that Jay Bennett was a bit of a multi instrumentalist for hire on Being There, brought in to help Jeff Tweedy realise the songs he heard in his head.  Whereas their next release was made by Tweedy and Bennett collaborating and writing together in the studio.

While the current incarnation of the band is by far the longest established and most solidified version in their history, I think the music is still clearly Tweedy’s vision, with the others helping make that a reality.  So it’s the idea of Jeff Tweedy relying so much on someone else’s contributions and sensibilities that had me most intrigued about Summerteeth.

From its grandiose bells, to dancing guitar riff, Can’t Stand It sounds like Tweedy in Beatles mode and totally nailing it.  The Beatles feel continues with a slight Strawberry Fields tinged hypnotism on She’s a Jar.

The Wiki for Summerteeth also points out that it is the most technological Wilco record to this time.  While A.M and Being There were generally recorded with the entire band playing live to tape, Tweedy and Bennett embraced digital multi tracking, and they did it in the best possible way.  So much music now can sound too perfect, with ProTools erasing every mistake, no matter how minuscule.  But while a song like A Shot in the Arm is built on layer, upon layer, upon later of lush intricacy, it never loses its human heart.  You can still hear real people playing the instruments, you can still hear Tweedy’s real emotion in each and every word.

Things get a little more to the point and rock and roll with the stripped back guitar love song I’m Always in Love.  This is one of the few songs I already knew and loved before listing to Summerteeth for this review.  And its simplicity in comparison to the previous songs make me love it and them even more.  It’s great that for all the leg stretching Tweedy and Bennett were doing, it didn’t get in the way of recognising when a song requires a less is more approach.  An approach that continues with the acoustic pop rock of Nothing’severgonnastandinmyway (Again).

As the gentle piano and cracked crooning of Tweedy introduces Pieholden Suite, I realised how breathless Summerteeh had been to this point.  Which is great, because while I recognise how good Wilco are when it comes to slow, and contemplative, it’s always the rockers that I gravitate more towards.

From its saloon piano intro, to a haunting guitar and glock combo that perfectly matches the opening line of, “Go to sleep now”, May Darling is Wilco at their most gentle and heartfelt.  And while that’s nothing too new to me from this band, amongst the general upbeat tempo feel of this record, it’s a nice shift in tone.  It’s also a nice excuse for Tweedy and Bennett to dive even deeper into their studio tweaking and layering to beautiful effect.
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If the evolution between A.M and Being There was like a fish growing legs, the advancement between the latter and Summerteeth takes that leggy fish and follows it all the way to a 2016 human listening to a Wilco album on Spotify.  It’s also the least like the idea of Wilco I have built up via my casual listening all these years.  Maybe it’s a result of the collaboration between Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett.  Maybe it’s the result of their substance struggles.  Maybe it’s just the sound of a very specific point in time for the entire band.  Whatever it was, it’s pure Wilco, presented in a really unique way, and I loved it.


Other Opinions Are Available.  What did these people have to say about Summerteeth?
Rolling Stone
Sputnik Music
Sweet Georgia Breezes

8 thoughts on “MUSIC REVIEW | Wilco – Summerteeth (1999)

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