"Impossible Germany" from the album Sky Blue Sky
"What Light" from the album Sky Blue Sky
In the 14 years since Wilco formed, they've had 12 members, six of whom remain with the band today. Only Jeff Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt have served as the core of the band. When they released A.M. in 1995, they were unquestionably an alt-country act. Music magazines had a heyday writing about the dissolution of Tweedy and Jay Farrar's previous band Uncle Tupelo, and the emerging genre they seemed to be creating (Farrar left Tupelo to form Son Volt).
Wilco has since released five subsequent albums, each to critical acclaim, including the new, Grammy-nominated Sky Blue Sky. The record is anything but alt-country, though.
On "Side with the Seeds," the psychedelic guitar work sounds more like a throwback to Steve Howe tearing it up with Yes than Uncle Tupelo, the band that spawned a whole magazine, No Depression, dedicated to the alt-country sound they popularized. Sky Blue Sky's opening track, "Either Way," is backed with building orchestral strings, while "Impossible Germany" finds a layered riff that's topped with furious guitar work.
With all the inner strife and comings and goings of band members, Wilco is undeniably a rock band. However, much like Radiohead and the Flaming Lips, they're not rock 'n' roll. They're simultaneously genre-busting and defining, and the only guarantee is that they'll be interesting, and it'll sound good.
In fact, they're possibly one of the most unifying bands of all time. There's something attractive about Wilco's music. They care. Enough that they let their fans request songs on for the current tour on their website, with the only stipulation being that you tell them why you want to hear that song.
Whatever Wilco is, Jeff Tweedy will be around for the duration. Writers will still be covering him until the day he dies. Because he's both fascinating and amazingly good — and isn't that what we're all looking for in a songwriter? —Stratton Lawrence