Wilco has always embraced change. Since their inception, Jeff Tweedy and company have undergone a near-constant evolution, both in terms of band members and musical leanings. During this time they've moved from their country origins to summery pop fiends to rock deconstructionists to brazen experimentalists. On their latest release, Sky Blue Sky, Wilco continue their metamorphosis, but this time the move isn't necessarily in the right direction.
Sky Blue Sky mainly explores a folk-rock landscape similar to their 1996 double album, Being There, along with the blistering guitar theatrics of 2004's A Ghost is Born. Sometimes this contrast of gentle and explosive produces engrossing results like on album opener "Either Way" and "Impossible Germany," but too often the guitar freak-outs detract from the quiet nature of the songs.
Sky Blue Sky's flaws don't end here. About halfway through the album Wilco dive into "Shake it Off," a confused mess of a song that comes far too close to jam band status for comfort. Roughly half of the material after "Shake it Off" adopts a similar approach of loose jams, pointlessly big guitars and insipid lyrics. These songs will sound great at a summer festival, but as album cuts they're forgettable at best.
Wilco shouldn't be chastised for moving away from the more experimental elements of their last few albums--change is what they do, after all--but the sound they've chosen to explore on Sky Blue Sky is rarely interesting and at times downright annoying. Fortunately, the band is too talented to wallow in mediocrity for long. Hopefully their next reinvention will be more successful.