One glance at the cover of Wilco’s most recent album, and nothing is indicative of what goes on inside.
Ok, that’s only a half-truth. Front man Jeff Tweedy stated last week that the album was released as a surprise free download simply because “it would be fun”.
With an oil painting depiction of a fluffy white kitty behind the vintage lettering of Star Wars, the obvious interpretation is that the record was made with that same frame of mind.
Because of this, it’s safe to say that the mid-western alternative rock band’s freshest output is void of any kind of pressure. That’s not to say it’s lacking intensity. Wilco has forged a long career out of laid back folk jams that are blanketed in out-of-tune lap-steel feedback squealing over tender lyrics.
As a whole, Star Wars is somewhat of a return to form after the expansive folk-rock of 2011’s The Whole Love. If you could consider A Ghost Is Born-era Wilco to be the most genuine version of the band.
Star Wars is a fleeting, 33-minute effort that is as spirited as any of their other releases. Unlike its predecessor, it’s more formulaic in approach, yet embodies the same earnest quality of signature Wilco.
Swirling guitar riffs carry the bulk of the load, while the sonic crescendo of tracks such as “You Satellite” help build the foundation, and the steady fuzz build-up and drop off of “Pickled Ginger” provide the backbone of the record.
After nearly clocking in a full runtime, Star Wars saves the most saccharine moments for the mid-tempo closing ballad “Magnetized”.
It’s evident that Wilco is not keen on pulling any punches with Star Wars. It would be unfair to say it lacks in surprises, as Wilco has a reputation of playing it safe over the course of their career. Yet with this offering, Wilco remain the purveyors of honest folk-rock, even if the rural tendencies of their music has all but dissipated over the last few albums.
There may be a hidden joke connecting the track “Random Name Generator” with the innocuous album title, but Star Wars should be tempered with honest expectations from the very first listen.
Score: 3 1/2 out of 5
Star Wars is available now as a free download from Wilco’s official website.
Chris Dowbiggin is a graduate of broadcast journalism at Sheridan College. Besides Ultimate Frisbee, his true passions lie in his musings on music and pop culture. You can follow him on twitter here.