Summerteeth by Wilco

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So here we are at the end of the 1990s, it has been a great decade full of so many different kinds of music and has really opened my eyes as to how much progression there really was. I’m ending the decade with an album that I honestly don’t think really pushes any barriers but it still features some great rock sounds and leads into the group’s best work. In the mid 90s Wilco had defined an area called “Alternative country,” which as the name suggests was a fusion of country and alternative rock. With their 1999 album, Summerteeth, the band pulled back from the country a little bit but still kept some of the sound they were known for. The sound here is closer to what they were known for during their 2000’s output, alternative rock with great emphasis on instrumentation. Here we get insight into the thoughts of singer and songwriter Jeff Tweedy and see how he feels about life. The end product is a group of songs that is a lot of fun to sing along to and lose yourself in as well.

The album kicks off with the high energy Can’t Stand It, which features some ringing bells, not sure which instrument it is though. There are some nice little guitar riffs that pop through the rest of the track. It is a great intro track as it gives the listener an idea of the group’s energy and Tweedy’s vocal style, which is sometimes harsh but always emotional. She’s a Jar is a more downbeat song that talks about a woman that is hard to get a read on. With lines like “A sleepy kisser, a pretty war” you get the idea that it is hard to describe this person, but there is an attraction never the less. The third track A Shot in the Arm features some mellotron and a lot of energy. At its core it is a song about change. The man is no longer in love with the woman or vice versa because they have changed who they are, for better or worse. He needs some kind of drug/help, via a “Shot in the Arm” in order to love the woman again. The use of symbolism throughout this song is great, gives great meaning to the alone feeling that one person gets while the other is changing. It also gives many meanings to one song; it could also be interpreted as a song about drug addiction! The delivery of each line is done in such a perfect way as to really convey the energy he is feeling. Musically we are overloaded with lots of sounds, which convey the craziness that is going on in this person’s life. Next we get a few more upbeat songs like I’m Always in Love, which features some high pitched synthesizers, Nothing’severgonnastandinmyway(again), which as the name suggests is a mouthful to sing along with. The group also does a great job with switching things up with slower paced songs like Via Chicago, a song dedicated to the band’s hometown. It’s got some of the only guitar riffs on the album, very emotion evoking song. There is also a lot of Beatles influence shown in tracks like My Darling and folk influence in tracks like When You Wake Up Feeling Old. Tweedy’s songwriting style is very much rooted in folk music, the ways things are phrased and how phrases are coined in his songs. One last song that really captures the band’s energy is ELT which stands for “Every Little Thing.” It is a song about wishing that you had made different choices in the past now that you have seen the outcome. Having made these choices the singer as a lot of regrets and they tear him apart. It is near the end of the album and one of the last up beat songs you hear.

Looking at this album as a whole I would say that the overall mood is down. A lot of Tweedy’s inspiration for lyrics and sound was from the fact that he was away from his family during tour and he felt very emotionally about that. Even through his voice you can feel the sadness he has being away from special people in his life. A lot of musical influence also comes from the “classic” artists like The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and the Beach Boys. The straightforward “rock” sound doesn’t sound old and played out though, the band is able to improve upon the old formulas and make something original and great. I’m also happy that they did keep some of their country roots by way of lap-steel guitars; I don’t think Wilco would be the same without that influence. As their career rolls on today, their sound also changes with each recording, their latest due to be released next month! What are your thoughts on Wilco and their unique sound? I will be kicking off the 2000s on Friday with Stankonia by Outkast! Feel free to send me any thoughts on albums from the 00’s that I should feature, I appreciate it, thanks for reading!


Wilco performing “My Darling”, 1999