In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Hearing Sky Blue Sky now, I feel like this record and this solidifying of the band is the clear beginning of the today’s happier, more optimistic outlook.”
And thus it came to be, Wilco in its most consistent form was born. After various comings and goings of band members, including Jay Bennett being sacked because, “A circle can only have one centre” (Tweedy, 2001), the tour for 2004’s A Ghost is Born saw the addition of multi instrumentalist Pat Sansone, and guitar soundscape evil genius, Nels Cline. Forming the version of the band that still exists today, their first studio effort together was Sky Blue Sky.
All pretty tinklings and gentle but upbeat vocals, Either Way and You Are My Face ease the record in. Until the latter gives way to Cline’s aggressive, hard hitting guitar sound, leading to some vintage soul grooves. Cline often looks like he’s trying to break his guitar while he plays it, and the short, blistering moments where he cuts loose here sound like a strings should be snapping with every single note.
Talking about the writing of Sky Blue Sky, Tweedy said, “I got nervous about the technology on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. If you need a certain amp or pedal to make a song what it is, it isn’t a song.” And I really think you can hear that. A song like Impossible Germany is perfect in its simplicity. It doesn’t sound like bits and pieces assembled and perfected in ProTools. It sounds like band of real people, playing a song, in a room together.
After the country nostalgia serenade of the titular Sky Blue Sky, Wilco go deep into piano driven, sensual rhythm and blues on Side With the Seeds, before it evolves into rock ballad grandeur, courtesy of Cline’s gloriously noodling guitar. Considering this was the first album by the expanded and solidified line up, the majority of this record is definitely on the restrained, quiet side. Not that Wilco are known for ear splitting riffs or driving beats, but they are a band who knows how to use their size and volume to their advantage when it’s time to rock out. Instead, Sky Blue Sky is much more interested in the finger picked acoustic guitars of Please Be Patient With Me, and the Al Green-style tender soul, combined with late Beatles rock layering of songs like Hate It Here.
I haven’t written much about the bass guitar work of John Stirratt in this Wilco retrospective, but as his smooth, melodious four string contributions open Leave Me (Like You Found Me), and carry the song for its duration, I realised how big a part of the band’s sound he is. He’s never showy or conspicuously n the way, but at the same time, Stirratt never settles for boringly churning out the simple 4/4, metronomic wallpaper that so many other bass players do.
Closing things out in a particularly hypnotic, airy piece of floating aural contemplation, On and On and On slowly and deliberately builds so gradually, it was almost a surprise when I realised it was building to a crescendo, and perfect ending to the album. With Sky Blue Sky, I’m finally catching up to when I started following Wilco in real time. I remember specifically when the next few albums came out, and listening to them almost immediately on release. To me, those records sounded like a much more content Jeff Tweedy. Hearing Sky Blue Sky now, I feel like this record and this solidifying of the band is the clear beginning of the today’s happier, more optimistic outlook.
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