By Max Semenczuk, Contributor
Key tracks: “Everyone Hides”, “White Wooden Cross”, “Love Is Everywhere (Beware)”
Ode to Joy, Wilco’s 11th album, loses the somber overtones the band is known for, exchanging those solemn feelings for a more optimistic sound. That doesn’t mean any lyrical validity is sacrificed, however. Moreover, the band’s introspective lyricism and country-esque roots, which have stuck with the group for the past 25 years, are still present on the record. Tracks like “Everybody Hides” and “Love is Everywhere (Beware)” contain lyrics that truly stand out, as each has a positive message that feels like frontman Jeff Tweedy wrote them specifically and intimately for each listener.
Read more: Album Review: Wilco – Schmilco
Especially after 2015’s Star Wars and 2016’s Schmilco, Ode to Joy has a different feel than the other albums Wilco released this decade. Tweedy’s songwriting style is natural and fluid on Ode to Joy, as the band creates space to show their talented and unique musical prowess in their new songs. “Bright Leaves”, for example, has a sparse lyricism that makes each word count.
Tweedy’s redundant lyricism can be a slight bore on the album, though he often uses the tool sparingly and effectively. When he sings a series of “Oh, oh, everyone hides” on “Everyone Hides” for the last chorus and outro, the message of the song resonates with the listener without becoming an earworm. The same tactic is used effectively on “Before Us”.
The record’s instrumentation does occasionally feel incoherent, however. Some tracks such as “Quiet Amplifier” boast distorted guitar riffs and solos, but this causes a mess in the song’s mixing, as the guitars are drowned in the muddy, bass-heavy mix; it feels inconsistent. On some tracks, such as “White Wooden Cross”, the bass sound is crisp and potent, while on others, such as the aforementioned “Quiet Amplifier“ or “Bright Leaves”, it feels like Wilco is trying to work with too many tracks, weighing down entire songs. It also feels like Tweedy can’t decide on a style to sing on the record. On tracks like “Before Us”, he sings in a more breathy tone, but on “Everyone Hides”, he is articulate and crisp.
Ode to Joy also contains abrasive tempo and mood changes between tracks, with the jump between “Quiet Amplifier” and “Everyone Hides” coming off as brash—like the band just put those two tracks next to each other out of necessity and not out of a cognizant decision. The band toys with a lot of different musical motifs and volumes throughout the record, and individually, they all work and sound great. The clunkiness occurs as a result of the tracks being tied together.
Despite some of the inconsistencies, the songs on Ode to Joy that are good are really good; they might even be some of Wilco’s finest. Overall, they stand out and make up for the dullness that a few of the lackluster tracks create.