Full of radiance and subtleties, Wilco (The Album) is an ambitious yet confident record from a band at its peak, an 11-song odyssey that trades skillfully between tension and elation.
The preposterous album cover (a camel wearing a party hat) and sly title represent the fun side, but the album also holds shadow-cloaked songs, soaked with images of death, blood and thrashing desperation. The most stable lineup in Wilco's sometimes tumultuous 15 years surges ahead without a hint of complacency, allowing the tremendous talents of six musicians to mix in myriad combinations.
A comforting thank-you love letter to fans, "Wilco (The Song)" kick-starts the album with the exhilarated urgency of a payday Friday. However, the record's longest—and most challenging—song is "Bull Black Nova," a veiled and disjointed murder ballad that's harsh, rigid and relentlessly repetitive at times, spinning and twisting into a fitful paranoia as it builds to a mesmerizing guitar freak-out.
Next up is Feist joining Jeff Tweedy for a duet on "You and I," a sorrowful yet sweet ballad. "One Wing" is a showcase for guitarist Nels Cline that sadly stops short of the transcendence of his solo on "Impossible Germany," 2007's Sky Blue Sky triumph, while the first single, "You Never Know," is a jaunty piano rocker that'll drive the "dad rock" naysayers up a wall.
Even the album's slowest tunes—"Country Disappeared," "Solitaire" and the closing "Everlasting Everything"—open up as soulful and gorgeous gems on repeated listens.