With cover art by the darkly comedic cartoonist Juan Cornellà, as well as a kooky title (an obvious nod to Harry Nilsson’s Nilsson Schmilsson), Wilco’s tenth studio album, Schmilco, seemingly arrives with Jeff Tweedy and company’s sense of humor firmly intact. Released almost exactly one year after the band’s self-released Grammy-award winning Star Wars, the new record is a mostly gentle affair with songs about alienation, nostalgia, and the pains that come with love and loss.
The pair of tracks that open Schmilco offer a sensitive Tweedy tenderly baring his soul while reflecting on his youth. “Normal American Kids” finds the singer waxing nostalgic about getting high behind the garden shed and, “bongs and jams and carpeted vans.” At its core, the song is about despising the thing you’re supposed to be (and inevitably are) while doing your best to avoid becoming it. Similarly, “If I Ever Was a Child” gives not so subtle hints as to Tweedy hesitantly looking back and wondering if it’s too late to find any joy in the innocent times, the song beginning and ending with the lines, “I’ve never been alone, long enough to know, if I ever was a child.”
Things begin to pick up with the lightly galloping “Cry All Day” before the record momentarily loses its way one third in with the clumsy “Common Sense”. With its dueling, niggling guitar parts and atonal bass, the otherwise unnecessary song acts as an apparent palate cleansing reset to the listener’s ear before the country-tinged “Nope” along with the record’s centerpiece (and heaviest moment) “Someone to Lose” present themselves.
While Schmilco’s second half never gives itself completely over to outright psychedelia, “Happiness” does offer slightly warped Beatles-esque chords, and the minor turns of “Shrug and Destroy” at times bring to mind the Fab Four’s “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”. With its chorus of, “We aren’t the world, we aren’t the children”, the record’s penultimate song, “We Aren’t the World (Safety Girl)”, returns Schmilco to the throwback-themed tracks found at the album’s outset before concluding with the fine “Just Say Goodbye”.
Aside from its occasional deviation in tone and style, Wilco’s latest offering is a largely consistent collection. And although the record’s mellow feel throughout won’t likely lead any of these tracks to find their way onto a cardio mix for the gym, Schmilco would definitely be an appropriate addition to any Wilco fan’s late summer/early autumn chill out soundtrack.