Wilco – Cruel Country
“I love my country, stupid and cruel,” Jeff Tweedy intones on Cruel Country, the titular track of Wilco’s twelfth studio album. On their second double album, the Chicago alt-rockers finally embrace country music; a label they’ve worn uncomfortably since 1994. This slumberous arrangement is one of many moments where they playfully lean into country motifs. A click-clacking beat imitates a horse coming into town, Tweedy in the saddle grappling with the complexities of what it is to be American.
Cruel Country is Wilco’s finest offering since The Whole Love (2011). Not to cast a disparaging shadow on their recent releases; it merely felt like the minimalism of Tweedy’s solo material transferred into the band’s melodic approach. Here, all six members got together and recorded the songs live, adding overdubs later. There’s a looseness to the playing. You can feel their enjoyment, throughout. The immediately captivating ‘The Empty Condor’, ‘Bird Without a Tail / Base of My Skull’, ‘Many Worlds’ and ‘Mystery Binds’ herald their sprawling and texturally dense material. The latter two, especially, summon their Yankee Hotel Foxtrot sensibilities.
Lyrically, too, there’s a lot to enjoy. From Bob Dylan-like absurdist humour on Ambulance (“They pronounced me dead at half past / And that priest he pissed his pants / When he heard me start to say hello”) to poignant introspection. “I’ve been through hell,” Tweedy reflects, “I only fought with myself so I’d have a story to tell.” The stories on Cruel Country are masterfully told, bringing an exciting new chapter for Wilco.
Words: Zara Hedderman