It has been a great day of riding supporting The Big Move as a sweep rider (affectionately known as the “Tail End Charlie”), over 100 kilometers around the gorgeous Niagara Region (click HERE); my 9th year as the last rider across both the starting and finishing lines. Here’s an idea of what a typical day looks like for a sweep rider from last year – click HERE. This year was no different and I feel very lucky to get to participate in this capacity with my family and so many other inspiring people.
However, now that we’re home, we’ve all retired to our quiet corners to rest and recover and my happy place this afternoon is enjoying the new Wilco ‘Schmilco‘ album with a cold grapefruit Radler.
So how does a band top an album featuring a winking kitty cat and a title of ‘Star Wars‘?
I mean, that’s fucking epic.
Well, apparently Wilco decided to do just that by creating an album cover with original art by Joan Cornella which in part, depicts some dude being electrocuted with blood streaming out of his ears and nose (because, hey, why not?) and a goofball title is a nod to Harry Nilsson’s great ‘Nilsson Schmilsson’, the album where the late songwriter risked confounding his soft-pop fanbase by branching out into raucous hard-rock (‘Jump Into the Fire‘) and calypso novelty pop (‘Coconut‘).
Well played guys.
Adding to this profound coolness, the album was released only this past week prematurely to only independent record stores before it’s official release to big box stores. The promotion was hailed and organized as “I Heard Schmilco” events around the country to promote the album, where people could listen to the album and then buy it on vinyl.
Officially, the album is released next week if you’re a total square.
Oh, and more thing…the vinyl is limited edition pink. Well, it’s looks orange to me which is fine since it matches well with my grapefruit Radler.
Anyway, ‘Schmilco’ is largely an acoustic record (despite what the album cover might lead you to initially believe) which proves to be the right vehicle for the band’s loosest, most unadorned set of songs since its debut. There’s electricity here, if not much electric guitar: ‘Locator‘ heaves back and forth with reckless abandon, and like many of the songs on the album, it’s over in two minutes and some change. Several other highlights take an uptempo tact: ‘Someone to Lose‘ is a slippery, infectious groove rooted in romantic anxiety, while ‘We Aren’t the World (Safety Girl)‘ goofs on the cornball charity anthem ‘We Are the World‘ over cartoonish keyboard glimmers. It’s definitely clever if not fun.
There’s a ramshackle charm to these songs – the snatches of studio chatter in ‘Nope‘, the way Tweedy drawls “Is that so?” every few lines in ‘We Aren’t the World‘, or the entirety of ‘Normal American Kids‘, a fine, folksy ode to youthful misanthropy. It’s nice to hear Wilco not taking itself too seriously, nicer still to hear some of Tweedy’s shrewdest lyrical nuggets in years. Middle age can breed as much uncertainty as wisdom. On ‘Just Say Goodbye‘, the singer wallows in self-doubt and seems to take a stab at fans who seek redemption in the band’s music, “as if I have answers.” Or maybe it’s about fatherhood (hence my Dad Rock classification); the record has plenty of sonic ties to ‘Sukierae‘, the one Tweedy did with his son. As on ‘Sukierae’, the “weaker” tracks aren’t bad, just teetering short of excellent (‘Quarters‘, ‘Shrug and Destroy‘)…and that’s hardly a bad thing.
But heft isn’t an issue; like ‘Star Wars’, this album barely passes the 38-minute mark.
What’s particularly interesting, is that unlike ‘Nilsson Schmilsson’, the album contains few gambles. Wilco has already passed through its wilderness period, and unlike Nilsson – who sank into alcohol abuse and seriously damaged his vocal cords by the mid-’70s – this band has emerged on the other side settled and healthy. ‘Schmilco’ feels like aging gracefully…which I hope I am, if spending nearly five hours in the saddle pedaling is any sign.
Here’s hoping anyway.