For a second there, I was willing to concede that Wilco kind-of sucked. I had listened to the new album a couple of times online and it wasn't doing anything for me. Blame it on the really weak Quicktime stream.
Coming out of my Bose iPod speakers, Sky Blue Sky sounds fantastic. Grand, soaring, melancholy, hopeful, soulful. This is a record that makes a virtue out of straightforwardness. Gone are the self-consciousness, the laptop bleeps and the abstract poetry, and in their place is an album of great depth and maturity. These are the songs of someone who has lived a little, and is coming to grips with what life is really about. Its about what things look like when you're no longer the wunderkind, or the poseur, or the hipster, but just another guy living a life.
If that sounds like dad rock, well so be it. Tweedy's a dad, and so am I. But more importantly, by invoking 70s rock as a template for a new kind of alt-alt-country, Wilco is going to a time when our first generation of rock stars were no longer teen idols but full fledged adults with spouses and children and divorces and grown-up problems. Think of the post-Fab Five Beatles, or post-Garfunkel Paul Simon, or post-breakup Fleetwood Mac.
Musically, Tweedy has found nice ways of sliding subtle minor notes and vocal shifts into his otherwise customary major chord song structures, and Nels Cline's guitar work is ear-catching and guitar-god-esque without being a parody of shredders past. Instead he fits the solos to the music and restores the 70s era guitar solo to its rightful place as an indispensable emotional and musical expression.
All in all: as good a record as I hoped for, and the right record from Wilco at the right time in their career.