REVIEW: Wilco’s ‘Ode to Joy’ is the band’s best album in over a decade

        Last year, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy released his memoir, Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back), along with two 11-track solo albums, WARM and WARMER. It was an especially busy year for him, and fortunately for fans, this pace hasn’t slowed down in 2019. Tweedy reunited with his Wilco bandmates to release their 11th album, Ode to Joy, on October 4th, which they are following up with an accompanying tour through the rest of the year. 

        Surpassing the 10-album milestone, Tweedy and company still have plenty of compelling ways to explore heartbreak, loneliness, and meditations on death. On Ode to Joy, the music’s elegant fragility trounces the lyrical themes around depression and nihilism. Wilco’s best work, including earlier songs like I Am Trying to Break Your Heart and Sunken Treasure, leave listeners believing the most beautiful music is also the saddest. 

        Ode to Joy, arguably their best album since Sky Blue Sky (released over a decade ago), follows the path Tweedy’s solo albums gently paved. Ode to Joy signals a departure from prog-rock experiments towards more mellow alternative folk rock – the band’s sweet spot. This is where the sextet’s chemistry shines brightest.

        On the new album, Jeff Tweedy sings in raspy whispers, sometimes sharing his thoughts so softly as if not meaning to say them aloud at all. The contrasting blend of naked yet cryptic songwriting has always been the most enticing element of Wilco’s music. But based on statements from Tweedy about the album, the music and lyrics from Ode to Joy have an urgency to them; they’re certainly intended to be heard – and heard right now, in the context of a transforming global world we’re all a part of:

“The record is, in a weird way, an ode; this terrible stuff is happening, this deepening sense of creeping authoritarianism that weighs on everybody’s psyche on a daily basis, and you’re allowed to feel a lot of  things at once. And one thing that is worth feeling, that is worth fighting for, is your freedom to still have joy even though things are going to shit.”

        Wilco’s music, and Tweedy’s lyrics in particular, have always focused more on the personal than the political. That remains true on Ode to Joy, which examines the human right to experience joy rather than larger societal musings. Even in the great Wilco song Impossible Germany, World War II becomes as much about a battle between two people in a relationship as it is about a geopolitical war. Ode to Joy proves, yet again, Wilco’s ability to make all the events of the world feel deeply personal. 🍑