Wilco are in the business of joyful melancholy and their latest album is another great edition to the genre, making a perfect accompaniment for an over-travelled markontour on a much delayed Eurostar home to London from Paris.
Kicking off with ‘Normal American Kids’, lead-singer Jeff Tweedy vents frustrations from his youth: “Before I could drive / Before I could vote / All that time holding a grudge… I knew what I liked / Was not very much.. Always afraid of those normal American kids.. Always afraid to be a normal American kid..”.
The album continues in much the same vein, from ‘Cry All Day’, through ‘Shrug and Destroy’, ‘Nope’ and ‘Just Say Goodbye’, albeit jumping from past to present like one of those films that tells a story in disconnected pieces, requiring a few hours in the pub afterwards to work out what the hell happened.
Except on Schmilco it’s all pretty clear. Misfit kid = unhappy. Teenager = unhappy. Successful young rock star = unhappy. Middle-aged Americana icon = unhappy. Even ‘Happiness’, which starts hopefully with the singer’s mother telling him he’s great, quickly gets back on message with the hrrmph that this maternal affection “only makes me sad”. Imagine Tweedy and Eeyore in the same field.
Except, judging by the band’s storming performance at the Brixton Academy on Saturday night, Wilco are having the time of their lives. In an interview to accompany Schmilco’s release Tweedy says words to the effect that he can cope with depression as long as he has the release of making music and the buzz of performing it on stage. It’s no surprise, then, that the band seem to have been on permanent tour for most of their two decades together.
Long may that continue, for while I don’t wish suffering on anyone, Wilco on this form are irresistible, turning angst into aural pleasure and providing this weary traveller with forty minutes relief from First World problems.