I admit it. I used to enjoy Wilco. They were never my favorite band, but they were upbeat, interesting—good enough for a run in the CD player on a warm, sunny day. I was always keen on the guitar parts and the subtle synth that permeated much of their music. Then, when Yankee Hotel Foxtrot dropped (remember, this is when I was still a wee teenager) it was played everywhere, even in my southern Indiana hometown that was chock-full of rednecks listenin’ to that feel good, feel sad, yeehaw modern pop-country bullshit (That, my friends, is a huge crossover). I remember the initial feeling of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot sucking me in with a little something extra, something not quite tangible that I could never really grasp. I only knew I liked it and left it at that.

I’m not ashamed to admit that it had been a bit before I, very recently, rediscovered Wilco. With their newer album, Sky Blue Sky, they’ve simply lost that competitive edge, that little bit of innovativeness they once sought out, or, at least were better at finding. I wasn’t overly disappointed or surprised, even. But I did need something to reaffirm my feelings towards Wilco. Naturally, I popped in Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I was halfway through, listening fairly actively, when it hit me.

I realized that it was Wilco’s lyrics that had sucked me in, not so long before. Not because I thought Jeff Tweedy’s lyrics were overly well written—in fact, they’re frequently a wad of drivel—but because they are filled with basic imagery that anyone could relate to. They suck you in with universal concepts like love and nostalgic reminders of past times. It is these lyrics (coupled with an inert anger that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot could make people feel special without being overly special), upon closer inspection, that became why I, not so subtly, but rather passionately, began to loathe Wilco.

Now, anyone could make a case that the world of music is filled with nostalgia and concepts like love. Well, I’ll beat you to the punch line. In fact, according to Lip Furia’s book The Poets of Tin Pan Alley, between the years 1920 and 1940, 85 percent of songs written were about love. Okay, okay, point taken. Thus, it’s not simply the concepts Tweedy focuses on; it’s his unique way of brainwash wording. You see, my ultimate problem with Wilco and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is that the music could be reminding us of something that once reminded us of something else. What kind of fake, prepackaged nostalgia is that?

It was finally apparent why Wilco had become so universal. Their music is set up to wholeheartedly identify with whatever the band wants listeners to acknowledge. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is, in a sense, a compendium of vague feelings. Let me explain. Van Morrison can toss me pretty lyrics with Astral Weeks, and I could love them or loathe them, but I could never fully understand the utter depths of cracked and jagged emotion his soul is pouring out in the song. I sound obtuse even attempting to write about it. Oppositely, people can totally get Wilco’s lyrics and the sentiments behind those lyrics. Take the song “Heavy Metal Drummer” as a prime example. In this song, Wilco is reminiscing in la-de-da land about a simpler time. The lyrics consist of lines such as, “I miss the innocence I’ve known/playing KISS covers, beautiful and stoned.” Now, I’m not trying to exhibit that everyone can relate to being stoned (heaven forbid I offend some Jesus-fearing Wilco lovers) and I’m certainly not convinced that every person has played a cover of KISS music; but, every person can understand and relate, at a fundamental level, to an innocent time nearly identical to the one written about. Clearly, many people find the simplicity of this format to be intricate, brilliant. I find it boring. Seriously, disregarding the slight intricacy of Wilco’s music itself, couldn’t anyone write in this manner? Haven’t they, with varying levels of success, already done this, and maybe better?

In the end, I don’t think anyone expects Wilco to always be exceptional; even artists with moments of sheer brilliancy, like Van Morrison, can sometimes suck. But, after this particular listening of the album I consistently hear hailed as Wilco’s greatest to date, the magic was stripped away, leaving me feeling fairly dirty. So, damn you, Wilco, if the depths of your words and convictions are only surface deep, why the hell do people find you so great? And, as many, many people seem to love this surface reflection, what does that say about us as lovers of music in the first place? If we know we enjoy surface deep, we need something a little more rooted to kick our thinking caps back into gear.

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