When most artists reach the ten album benchmark, you expect a pattern to develop over their recording history, however no one’s ever been able to truly pin down Wilco. Few bands can maintain mass fandom and attention ten records in, and while the milestone might normally be cause for a celebration, on Schmilco Jeff Tweedy and co. rejoice in toned down whispers. Jeff Tweedy’s never been known as a chuckling funny man, but with an album titled “Schmilco” and comic strip cartoon album art, he seems to be more at ease with life than we’ve been accustomed to.
Wilco is more than capable of surrounding you in a tornado of noise, but here Tweedy makes sure that his words are front and centre; he wants you to digest every syllable. Thoughts of childhood and coming of age are omnipresent on the album, beginning with “Normal American Kid”, where Tweedy reminisces on his childhood “before he could drive and before he could vote”. The album opener has always been a strong trademark of Wilco’s (think the otherworldly intro on “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”, the panic of last year’s “EKG”, or the schizophrenic “Art of Almost”), but “Normal American Kid” is a sing-song acoustic track that sets up a quieter tone for the album.
Schmilco is reminiscent of Jeff Tweedy’s father-son side-project Tweedy in the sense that it often sounds like a solo-record. This is the first Wilco album where it is sometimes hard to find where the full band fits in, and it will be interesting to see how they transform these songs in a live environment. “Common Sense” begins with Jeff Tweedy singing in a soft whisper – you feel that he’s sitting next to you in your room – only to be jolted by a reminder of the power of Nels Cline’s guitar. Unfortunately, this is one of the very few times on the album where Cline is given free range to be his experimental self, and his lack of contribution on Schmilco is quite jarring.
Schmilco is Wilco at their most subdued, the excitement of the full band is hard to find and all that is left is skin and bones. We’ve heard Jeff Tweedy scream and let his voice betray his emotions (see: Misunderstood, Passenger Side), but here he is unusually quiet, refusing to let excitement or sadness take control of his tones in a sign of his aging maturity. The album seems to please Tweedy more than it will please fans (or the rest of the band), and is arguably Wilco’s weakest album to date. One of Schmilco’s largest flaws is that this group of songs is too similar to live as a collection. The jarring edges of Star Wars are noticeably missing and absent, which is unfortunate as both albums were recorded at the same time. Wilco albums are usually something to revisit time and time again, however there is little on Schmilco that will have you running back. “If I Ever Was A Child” and “Normal American Kid” are the album’s two highlights, but it will be interesting to see if the rest of these songs will live on in future Wilco shows. It’s always nice to check in with Jeff Tweedy, but this isn’t the pedigree of album we’re used to from Wilco. Sometimes the greatest of bands can have a throwaway album, right now Schmilco is an album that’s quick to forget.