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Give a lo-five!

There’s a lo-fi lounge in heaven where they continuously play Wilco songs. (There’s a corresponding room in purgatory that plays only Beck songs, writes Indrajit Hazra.

columns Updated: Feb 20, 2010 17:32 IST
Indrajit Hazra

There’s a lo-fi lounge in heaven where they continuously play Wilco songs. (There’s a corresponding room in purgatory that plays only Beck songs. The one in hell plays Jon Bon Jovi on a loop.) The distinctively mellow, deceptively shallow sounds of the Chicago band with Jeff Tweedy in front of the microphone returns with some sunshine and fun after a while in Wilco (The Album).

‘Wilco (The song)’ is the perfect, laconic opening. We find Tweedy on great songwriting form as he tells us why we need Wilco more than they need us: “Are you under the impression/ This isn’t your life?/Do you dabble in depression? Is someone twisting a knife in your back? Are you being attacked? Oh, this is a fact that that you need to know/ Oh/ Wilco/ Wilco/ Wilco will love you baby.” That’s a good reason — with good music too. A gear notch lower, it’s the dreamy, airy ‘Deeper down,’ the slide cimbalom (let’s just call it slide guitar if you’re not familiar with the Hungarian dulcimer) making me nod in a nice, balmy way.

‘One wing’ flutters about making the feedback in the end sound like the high point of the track (it isn’t). The jumpy staccato bustles things up in ‘Bull black nova,’ a number that sounds like a soundtrack to a mild but interesting prescription drug reaction. ‘You and I’ is Tweedy doing a grown-up love song with Canadian singer-songwriter Leslie Feist, which sounds like a Badly Drawn Boy number but without the latter’s usual hangdog charm.

I could have sworn that ‘You never know’ sounds like George Harrisson in front of the mike with the Travelling Wilburys strumming on. The reassuring lyrics, “Come on children, you’re acting like children/ Act your age/ Get back to blackmetal and pearls,” breaks the illusion.

‘Country disappeared’ is a while-clearing-the-ashtrays-after-a-party song (or, if you’re that kind of person, the Wilco slow-dance number). ‘Solitaire’ has Tweedy do twee folksy stuff. When you come to ‘I’ll fight’, don’t miss out the riff from Pink Floyd’s ‘Time’ (although the good thing about Wilco’s version is that it’s minus the bogus tick-tock nonsense that’s at the start of the Floyd version). Towards the end, the album has a gem in ‘Sonny feeling,’ great words that deal with ‘what if?’ scenarios (“You know it’s true/ The other shoe/ It waits for you/ What can you do?/ Remember to show gratitude/ The darkest night is nothing new”) paired to jolly good uppers music.

Wilco (The Album) makes quiet sense. The perfect indoors picnic album while winter retreats from your shoes.

John out of his basement
The album cover of Battle Studies gives out the ‘This is a classical album’ message and instead of Daniel Barenboim there’s John Mayer posing. So, my instinctive reaction is to expect an album that showcases the guitaring talent of arguably one of the top ten guitarists playing in the pop-rock circuit today. Interspersed with the sort of music you associate with the New Age Police such as Sting, you get twiddles and fretlines of loveliness.

‘Heartbreak warfare’ is middle-of-the-road in the middle-of-the-highway track. But hang on. This is not the John Mayer Trio belting out beautiful blues. This is Mayer’s day job where he produces maple syrupy songs — which is what ‘All we ever do is say goodbye’ is really. ‘Half of the heart’ with country singer Taylor Swift is a ‘sensitive’ ditty. So rub it on your body, you may just feel good, as while listening to it I’m sighing restlessly.

‘Who says I can’t get stoned?’ is how Mayer starts ‘Who says’, which points to how easily available marijuana is these days (rather than how cool the singer is in this song). By the time, I reach ‘Perfectly lonely’, frankly I’m thinking I might as well have bought an old Phil Collins album.

True, there is no horror of his 2003 super-hit single ‘You body is a wonderland’ waiting to pounce on you and crush you with its hugs anywhere in Battle Studies. The star burst happens when we get Guitarman Mayer plays his cover of Robert Johnson’s Crossroads. He plays stunning guitar here. And all is forgiven. Almost.