#47. Wilco: Star Wars

The first minute of Star Wars sounds like the members of Wilco suffered concussions, lost all muscle memory associated with playing their instruments, and decided to record a song anyway. The intro is seventy-five seconds of comically dissonant cacophony, and for a moment it makes one wonder if Jeff Tweedy and co. have finally lost it. On a technical level, it could simply serve as a silly warm up for the band. But there’s a deeper significance to this intro—it feels like a ritualistic shedding of pretensions. Whatever its purpose, it sets the tone for a playful album completely devoid of conceit.

More than anything, Star Wars is a fun album. In the past, Wilco have tried to make great music, and have occasionally set out to challenge the status quo. But here, they sound like they’re making music for themselves, for no other reason than they like to make music with each other. Ironically, they might’ve made their most intrepid album yet, simply by prioritizing enjoyment over exploration.

Thankfully, the atonality ends with the intro, and gives way to some classic Wilco songwriting. “Random Name Generator” stands out right away as one of the most memorable tracks on the album. Its lyrics verge on being nonsensical, and its electric guitars chug along like a freight train. Like most of the songs on Star Wars, it was written by Tweedy. The rest of the band contributed their writing chops here and there, however. Lead guitarist Nels Cline—a renowned composer in his own right—injects his fascination with space (both astronomically and musically) into “You Satellite.” The lovely closing ballad “Magnetized” was co-written by Tweedy and Mikal Jorgensen, the band’s keyboardist. Wilco isn't just Jeff Tweedy and a group of hired guns; each band member pulls their weight on this album.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot might be a better representation of “Wilco: the musicians,” but Star Wars gets us closer than ever before to “Wilco: the people.” From its cheeky album title to its feline cover art—an actual painting that hangs permanently in the band’s loft—the best part of this album isn’t how good the music is. It’s how much of the band’s personality shines through.