This marked yet another dramatic shift in sound and tone for Wilco. The “alt-country” label is long gone by this point, and the experimental affectations of more recent work is jettisoned, as well, in favor of more straightforward ’70s-era rock and folk. This is the simplest Wilco music since the band's debut 12 years earlier—and that’s not a bad thing.
“Either Way” sets the pace immediately, as the album-opener may be one of the most uplifting/positive songs Jeff Tweedy’s ever written. That makes way for two of the band’s best songs: “You Are My Face” still reminds me of Pink Floyd with its majestic movements and delicate harmonies; “Impossible Germany” is a guitar manifesto, maximizing all of Nels Cline’s considerable talents for the first time on a Wilco record.
There are some other harder rockers on this disc, but none are as satisfying. “Walken” is fun in concert but not as much in the studio, while “Side with the Seeds” is a bit disjointed. The other standout tracks on “Sky Blue Sky” are quieter affairs, starting with the folksy title track. “What Light” plays like a Bob Dylan song as Tweedy looks inward to examine how art takes on a life of its own and the musicians just have to deal with that. And the final track, “On and On and On,” builds to a big climax that works exceedingly as a complement to “Either Way.”
Once again, though, Wilco misses Jay Bennett in the studio here. These songs all sound a bit too perfect, too measured, too careful; like “A Ghost Is Born,” "Sky Blue Sky" comes off a bit close and claustrophobic, like the recordings were done inside a sterile padded room. A bit more space to roam would have been nice.
Favorite Track: “You Are My Face”
Other Favorite Track: “Impossible Germany”
Least Favorite Track: “Leave Me Like You Found Me”
My original review of “Sky Blue Sky” is posted here; I didn’t go back and read it before writing this one.