Wilco spearhead Jeff Tweedy has stated that the previous couple of Wilco records were created in an atmosphere of low stakes. The final result being that both of those records sounded undercooked by Wilco’s standards. They have said they’ve finally come to terms with their legacy, and in doing so created the stark Ode To Joy, their 11th studio album.
Over the past decade, Wilco have predominantly turned into pedestrian balladeers with Tweedy saving his best songs for an album he made with one of his sons. Ode To Joy suffers from the same affliction, with many of the tunes struggling to reach a canter. They aren’t aided by the fact that Tweedy is at his most restrained with his vocals being tossed away, as he is fast living up to his reputation as a serial mumbler.
Wilco used to pride themselves on using the studio innovatively, and sonically the lack of cymbals and restrained playing on Ode To Joy does assist with the album’s barren feel, but where they used to sound vibrant and creative, they now make records that sound like they are punching in at an office job. The ridiculously talented Glenn Kotche appears to be hamstrung by the lacklustre songs that were born out of Tweedy creating demos with a drum machine, reducing Kotche’s freedom to create unique rhythms.
We Were Lucky is the most interesting and certainly the most discordant track on the record, with guitarist Nels Cline offering up the usual diverse tones from his sonic platter. White Wooden Cross meanwhile is the most dynamic track that Tweedy and his crew offer up this time out, and is sure to be a fine addition to their live shows. Love Is Everywhere (Beware) continues the theme of looking for the moments of brightness amongst the repressive Trump era, and is one of the few times the band sounds layered and fully in sync.
But that’s about it. Overall with Ode To Joy, Wilco continue a steady decline that has seen them go from being at the top of the tree for both melody and experimentation, to becoming a band that pen music best suited for elevators and department stores.