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Ten Years Later: Summerteeth

November 8, 2009

March 9, 1999

Rating: 9.0/10

In what can only be described as one of the best runs of any band in the history of Rock ‘N’ Roll, Wilco created three magnificent, sprawling works of art in from 1999 to 2004. Beginning, of course, with the bright and sunny Summerteeth.

Drawing from the pop music of the ’60’s and ’70’s, this album holds its own in the Wilco discography as the sweetest of them all. This lighthearted collection of pop songs departs from the alt-country, roots rock that the band had become synonymous with and kicks off a tremendous bout of inspiring creativity.

Summerteeth further distinguished Jeff Tweedy as a songwriting genius and went a step beyond Being There proving that he could write music that didn’t sound like an Uncle Tupelo album.

From the opening chords of “Can’t Stand It,” and the bells that ring behind those chords, it is evident that this is not the same Wilco. From the start is obvious that the change is not all about Tweedy, but also about Jay Bennett’s master craftwork in every subtle nuance this album has to offer.

As a producer, Bennett truly knew how to utilize the studio as an instrument and his skill really begins to shine on Summerteeth. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot might mark the high-water mark of the Jay Bennett-era of Wilco recordings, but this album sets the stage for that epic album.

Bennett has a way of layering sounds to create different emotions and unique textural sounds, but his synth dabbling never gets in the way or clutters the song. At no point does the background overwhelm the message or tone of the song, but rather enhances what Tweedy is waxing about.

“A Shot In The Arm” stands out to me as the most memorable song from Summerteeth. It has a rather plaintive chord progression, but its execution is flawless. Tweedy manages to squeeze the most out of those D chords and builds them to epic proportions in support of his beautiful lyrics.

Like a good gambler, a producer has to know when to fold, and the band’s decision to leave “Via Chicago” more stripped down than other songs emphasize the haunting lyrics maximally without doing anything special. The understated beauty of this song comes through wonderfully and makes it a joy to hear even ten years later.

The test of time can be cruel on many albums, but now, ten years later, Summerteeth is still an indispensable piece of alt-country and indie-rock music. This album is endearing, dark, fun, happy, sad, sweet and sour.

Summerteeth speaks on so many levels, and part of the fun of listening to it is finding how it speaks to you personally. I rediscover my love for Wilco with each guitar slide and synthesizer swell, and that’s what makes this album so incredible. Each person can have a different understanding of each song, but that doesn’t make it any less genius.

This isn’t my favorite Wilco album, but I wouldn’t trade my copy for anything else. With each listen it burrows itself deeper into my heart and creates new relevance in my life. That’s what makes it so special, and that’s what makes it such a good album.

A Shot In The Arm
Via Chicago

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