Laura Green ‘18
Almost a year and a half after Wilco surprise-released “Star Wars,” one of my all-time favorite albums, “Schmilco” went on sale, with much more buildup than the previous. “Schmilco” is a more laid-back, angstier response to “Star Wars.” The mostly-acoustic album is classically Wilco, known for their folksy rock and extensive discography. “Schmilco” is the band’s tenth studio album, as they’ve been in a constant cycle of production and touring ever since their 1994 beginnings.
“Schmilco” starts out with “Normal American Kids,” a perfect embodiment of the album. It’s a shoutout to the misfits, who spend high school smoking weed and jamming in a van. Jeff Tweedy looks back on his adolescence “before [he] could drive, before [he] could vote … before [he knew] people could die just because,” resenting normal American kids. The singer is jealous of those kids who seem normal with ease, while he “always hated” “painting himself as a normal American kid.” The song is low effort and low stakes, but the honest memorializing of his teenage years is appealing.
“Happiness,” on the other hand, is the abnormal American kid all grown up. Tweedy starts the song by singing, “My mother says I’m great/ And it always makes me sad/ I don’t think she’s being nice/ I really think she believes that.” The band matches his quiet voice as he opens up about his self-doubt, moving from this sentiment to a song riddled with death imagery. Tweedy wryly sings, “Happiness depends on who you blame.” The young kid is now a full-blown depressed adult.
“Schmilco” was recorded at the same time as “Star Wars,” like twins separated at birth, yet represent totally different sides of Wilco. “Star Wars” is high energy, loud and experimental. “It was also Wilco’s successful attempt to diversify their sound and move away from the “dad rock” stereotype. “Locator” is a vestige of their “Star Wars” venture. It was the only song released early for free, hinting to a repeat of their previous album. If “Locator” was a “Star Wars” cast off that didn’t make the cut, that much is obvious. It’s a little jarring on “Schmilco” and doesn’t quite fit. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great song. But it doesn’t work in this album.
“Common Sense” is the standout of the album. The dark, slow sensuality of the guitar perfectly accompanies Tweedy’s low whisper-singing. The song is a little ominous and a little intriguing. It reminds me of a foggy fall twilight. “Schmilco” can verge on boring for those who are less into the folksy, classic Wilco. This is where “Common Sense” hits the perfect middle ground: it still feels like Wilco while being totally unique.
Wilco’s tenth album is exactly what comes to mind when I think, “Sunday afternoon in fall.” I have work to do and I can’t listen to anything that will make me fall asleep. I need something that is laid-back, catchy and captivating, but not too distracting. “Schmilco” hits every criterion. It shows that Wilco is still open to experimentation, but wants to remain true to its roots. Maybe “dad rock” isn’t such a bad thing after all.