Critics have been known to judge a whole Wilco album by its first track, and if that road was taken on “Star Wars,” Wilco’s newest album, it would be described as short, slightly experimental and not entirely enjoyable. Yet, that road misses the larger picture of what "Star Wars" is.
Although "Star Wars" is Wilco’s shortest release, it features some of their most ventures into new ground. Despite the risks they took early on their career, since 2007 they never went too far out.
Some songs have a notion of incompleteness. Songs like "More..." use that to its advantage, giving a surreal experience. While no songs are underdeveloped, the filler songs damage the album greatly. The worst filler on the album, "Pickled Ginger," features some interesting guitar tunes. Otherwise, the song is an annoyance.
In terms of mood, the album is hard to pin down. There is only one distinctly sad song, yet almost all the vocals have a somewhat detached quality, which singer Jeff Tweedy is known for.
The backing tracks are all fairly engaging. The production is crisp with some songs even using the “Wall of Sound.” Most of this is from guitar distortion and feedback. While the album has a lot of guitar feedback and distortion, a lot of the noise serves a background role, which is a shame because it’s some of the band’s best use of noise.
With that said, the album could've improved the transitions between songs. Besides for a link in rhythm in two songs, as soon as one song ends it jumps into the next, which can be jarring because the songs don’t have intros. A prime example is the song “You Satellite,” which starts just slightly after the first note is played. Yet, all things considered, the song is a solid place for Nels Cline (lead guitar) to actually play some blistering guitar, even if it’s put backseat for the song’s riff.
Speaking of Nels Cline, his role on the album is interesting, playing the normal lead guitar throughout, but seemingly playing more slide guitar than usual. To fill the void, it seems Pat Sansone (multi-instrumentalist) plays guitar in some form throughout the album, possibly adding some of the feedback.
While the music is “out there” at moments, overall it’s fairly tame. The “out there” elements come into play in the lyrics. Most of the lyrics are stuff of greatness, with the line “Why do our disasters creep so slowly into view” standing out every time I listen to the album.
It's a record that seems like fun to make, but it's not always a fun listen. Some songs fall flat, others rise. However, the album is free and by one of the better acts of the last two decades. So I'd say it's one worth checking out and buying if you dig it.