Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Wilco - Kicking Television: Live in Chicago (Noneusch, 2005)

Despite the experimentalism and controversy of their last two albums, Wilco remains a pop band at their core. While they still maintain their alt-country roots, the addition of guitar hero Nels Cline to the band and their use of subtle electronic effects has expanded the band's range and kept them at the forefront of modern pop music. This live double CD consolidates the changes the band has embraced over the past few years.

If there is any complaint to be made about this set, it's that many of the songs fall into the same anonymous mid tempo groove that is the comfort zone for most of the band. By placing too many of these like tempoed songs in a row, parts of the album tend to lumber and that undermines the quality of the song lyrics. Some songs do work well at this speed like "Hell is Chrome" with its inscrutable lyrics, which are sung in a high whisper with some haunting organ underneath. "Via Chicago" works well with some really pretty steel or slide guitar (hard to tell which) and piano.

Luckily there are enough rockers to pick up the pace a little bit. "I'm the One Who Loves You" is an faster rock tune with a little bit of honky-tonk piano looking back to their alt-country days. "Heavy Metal Drummer" is one of their finest pop gongs with a catchy chorus and driving beat. "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" is the highlight of the faster songs with the song itself dispensed with quickly to allow for an epic guitar workout. There's a lot of good music here, but maybe too much to be heard in one sitting. I think some judicious editing would have been helpful here. There's a great single album of varied exciting music hidden under the padding of a double album.

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