With the magnificent Wilco (the album), Wilco (the band) reach the point that REM were at around the time of Automatic for the People: a group at the peak of its powers, offering hope and consolation in the face of growing discord, and an undimmed faith in the transformative power of rock'n'roll.
It's an album in the classic sense of The Band and Nevermind, beautifully conceived to reflect misgivings about its changing era, and executed with the kind of intelligence that can fool one into thinking it's instinctive.
It's not, of course: the blend of genial welcome and spiky antagonism effected by the way the trenchant rock-guitar riff of "Wilco (The Song)" is topped with squalls of abstract guitar noise, takes more than mere accident to achieve. Likewise, the way the album arcs from initial suspicion to the optimism of "Everlasting Everything" is so deftly executed, with little flurries of guitar notes percolating through the track's final stages like birds of hope fluttering out into the world. Such things can only be created with dedication and deliberation, their success – ironically – measured by how well that deliberation is disguised as spontaneity.
Like many a classic-rock album, Wilco seeks to encompass an entire history of rock within its tracks – in Jeff Tweedy's case, a history steeped in his prevailing 1960s influences, but not bound by them. Wilco repeatedly conjures up familiar pop-memory landscapes from a few smart flourishes – as with the McCartneyesque melody and wisps of Harrisonic guitar in "You Never Know", the Band-style keyboard and guitar textures of "Country Disappeared", and most spectacularly in the way that the pedal-steel guitar, harpsichord, electric sitar and theremin of "Deeper Down" evoke the heady psychedelia of late-1960s Elektra records.
The album deals cheerfully with themes such as disillusion and disappointment, bringing an understated heroism to such matters as ageing and amorous breakdown. The minimum requirements for sustenance of a relationship are sketched in "You and I", while the howling guitar solo that caps the charming "One Wing" emphasises the bitterness of lines such as "You were a blessing and I was a curse/ I did my best not to make things worse for you". "Country Disappeared" broods over Bush's hijacking of American goodwill, while the worldly-wise "You Never Know" gazes wryly upon youthful melodrama: "C'mon, children, you're acting like children! Every generation thinks it's the end of the world!" And as Wilco (the album) demonstrates, every generation gets its due inheritance eventually.
Download this: 'One Wing', 'Bull Black Nova', 'Deeper Down', 'Country Disappeared', 'Everlasting Everything'