Over the weekend, Wilco surprised everyone when they released a new album as a free download. And after a few listens, I have come to the conclusion that “Star Wars” is ultimately an anomaly in the band’s catalogue. The record’s unconventional release aside, the record comes off as one of their weaker works. But considering a band like Wilco, that doesn’t mean that it’s bad in any way… in fact I absolutely loved the record.
“Star Wars” opens with the instrumental “EKG”, a sort of off-kilter Captain Beefheart-influenced track that pretty much sets the tone for the entire record: weird and off-kilter arrangements and that trademark Wilco instrumentation. Compared to their recent output, “Star Wars” is a rawer, slightly lo-fi affair as evidenced by the gritty psych-rock of “More…” and the fuzzed out guitars of “Random Name Generator” and “The Joke Explained”.
It’s pretty clear that with “Star Wars”, Wilco wanted to make a true blue rock ‘n’ roll record. And it’s a success for the most part. “You Satellite” for example, sounds like something that would sound great in a live setting, while the following track, “Taste the Ceiling”, hearkens back to the band’s alt-country roots. “Pickled Ginger” at 2 minutes and 29 seconds, is probably the closest the band’s ever gotten to writing a punk song before the melodicism and pop hooks of “Where Do I Begin” and “Cold Slope” remind us that this is still a Wilco that we’re listening to.
“King of You” returns to the psych-rock tendencies of the first half of the record while the hypnotic album closer “Magnetized” is reminiscent of some of Wilco’s finest songs from their “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” years.
The songwriting is as good as you would expect from Jeff Tweedy, and the production of the record captures the band at their very best. It sounds raw, it sound organic, it sounds loose and fun. It sounds like Jeff Tweedy and company in a room banging out one song after the other. “Star Wars” is not a bad record by any means. It’s one of my favorite records of the year. But like I said, it’s not right up there with Wilco’s best work. In a way, tt comes off as a fun little excursion before they make their next masterpiece.
You have to take the record for what it is though: it is Wilco having fun in the studio and making a classic rock ‘n’ roll record, and believe me when I say that “Star Wars” rocks really hard. And for that, I’m giving it high marks.