2016 was a funny year. One of the year’s biggest surprises for me was Wilco’s Schmilco. For me, Wilco was a casualty of overexposure; to be a relevant music critic in the ’00s meant killing your idols and really trying to distance yourself from indie rock to the extent it was possible.
In some ways, the divorce was painful. Wilco were probably one of my favorite, if not my absolute favorite band, at the end of the 90s. I fell hard for Being There, loved Summerteeth, fell hook, line and sinker for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and felt like they’d reinvented themselves all over again with A Ghost Is Born.
But then something happened. It was a confluence of factors, to be sure, but the overexposure and the superserious treatment the band got — and seemed to embrace — was a bit much. The band I saw ripping through a set on the banks of the Cooper River was a distant memory. Moreover, the weird got much weirder. Wilco’s art rock machismo didn’t fit the mood. I never cottoned to Sky Blue Sky and tuned out a band I’d seen on every tour between 1999 to 2003.
Albums came and went. I read tweets about Nels Cline’s sublime guitar, but I wasn’t moved. When I listened to Star Wars I was entranced by “Magnetized,” but I didn’t trust my emotions. Could it be that Wilco had found their way back, much in the same way one-time tourmates Sonic Youth did with Murray Street?
They had, but I couldn’t admit it yet.
It’s a crummy rock critic thing, but in the interim, even as Jeff Tweedy morphed into an elder statesman of Great American Songwriters, the all caps idea of Wilco had become something else altogether. Star Wars felt different, but with Schmilco, Wilco were underdogs all over again, a rock band at once completely out of time — didn’t they get the message the idiom had passed them by? — and simultaneously right in the pocket of the Zeitgeist in the most understated fashion imaginable.
In short, once Wilco were unburdened by the challenge of being the coolest rock band on the planet, it freed them up to make really fantastic records that captured the creativity and feistiness of their early years. If Schmilco is Wilco’s Sonic Nurse, then I can’t wait for their Rather Ripped.