There comes a point when well established bands reach a comfortable lull where they'll seemingly always remain. Wilco seem to have arrived there now. Once considered genuinely as one of the most important bands in the world, critically if not commercially, I doubt if anyone would seriously suggest the same now. They've achieved respected veteran status. Their 2002 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, generally considered their best, still ranks on the Best Ever Albums website as the 47th greatest LP ever released. That's almost fifteen years back now.
Since then they've gradually ceased to be front page news. It's hardly due to the quality of their output, which has generally remained consistently excellent, so much as the implicit short attention spanned nature of the industry they chose to work in. It happens to almost everyone and they're hardly to be pitied. I imagine the members of the band barely care themselves. They still command respect, can fill decent sized arenas comfortably every time they choose to tour and probably have family and general midlife distractions that preoccupy them more than where they stand in the pecking order of contemporary Rock and Roll.
Their new album, with the typically unassuming, title Schmilco, meets the standards of other releases of theirs. It's an unpretentious product all round, breathy and partially acoustic, addressing forty something concerns, articulately and with understated grace. The opening couple of tracks Normal American Kids and If I Was Ever a Child are particularly noteworthy, addressing leader Jeff Tweedy's childhood and adolescence in definitive and remarkable fashion. He might as well be speaking for tens of thousands of us and how we perceived ourselves during our bruised, teenage years as misunderstood poetic waifs outside the orbit of the anointed princes and princesses of our school and college days, the jocks and cheerleaders, (I'm British, but we had equivalent figures too). Convinced we were blessed by a higher and purer vision, but vulnerable and unfulfilled all the while. A lack of fulfillment we might fail to fully address until well into adulthood.
If the rest of the record was as good as these two tracks then Wilco would have another landmark album on their hands. It's not, but it's still pretty damned good. Tweedy's wisdom seems as hard-won but valuable as ever and his group is as sensitive and fluid group of musicians as any American outfit of the last thirty years. They're a cracking band and Schmilco is yet another cracking record. At their best they say more in single three minute songs than many others do in entire albums. Careers even.