Too many people try to define Wilco. One day they’re alt-rock, then they’re alt-country, noise-folk, or white-boy-indie-gospel. The question of where they belong has plagued indie zine and Rolling Stone journalists alike. But on their latest album, they embrace something that spans every genre they’ve touched: melody. Leaving the distortion of most of A Ghost is Born behind, Sky Blue Sky is a nearly genre-apathetic album that is satisfying, yet unfortunately unobtrusive. What could have been a great return to the country edge that’s followed them through all of their work instead turns into a blend of folksy somnolence. Of course there are highlights. The R&B beat of “Hate it Here” is one of those great breakup songs that both subdues and uplifts, where the protagonist asks “what am I going to do when I run out of shirts to fold?” and he realizes his lost love is never returning home. And “What Light” will make anyone swing and sway with an easy, crescendoing chorus.
If they were trying to get away from the noise they made on their last album, Wilco went too far in the opposite direction. If A Ghost is Born was an experimental Saturday night, this album is a Sunday morning album, to be enjoyed while sipping coffee and reading the Times in a sunlit kitchen. Maybe on their next effort they’ll find that balance between calm and energy that they’ve been able to make so beautifully in the past, possibly one that would be better suited for a weekday afternoon or evening. But for now, don’t expect this album to generate much excitement.