Review Summary: Wilco doesn't do anything wrong on this double-disc opus.
Uncle Tupelo was a hell of a band, but by the time Wilco made Being There
, Jeff Tweedy’s new(ish) band didn’t really have a whole lot in common with his old. Compared to Being There
, a 77-minute opus that has persisted to hold crown as Wilco’s finest work to date, Uncle Tupelo’s simple alt-country blend seems pretty stale. Hell, even Wilco’s previous album, the Tupelo-light A.M
, seems boring compared to this; it’s safe to say that Being There
marks Tweedy’s full transition to a top-tier songwriter. Mixing psychedelic elements and adding a slight experimental bent to his songs, yet never completely abandoning the rootsy feel of earlier Wilco/Tupelo albums, Being There
is a vast epic that never falters over its double-album length.
is consistently excellent, but it certainly doesn’t subscribe to one specific musical theme: songs range from swirling, noisy epics (“Misunderstood”) to plucky country pleasers (“Someday Soon”) to upbeat rockers (“Monday”). And it’s all good. Some naysayers would say that such variedness would result in a jumbled mess, but the opposite happens with Being There
; the patched-together feel and juxtaposition of some songs’ placement (like the weird “Misunderstood” being followed by the more traditional and country-ish “Far, Far Away”) make Being There
more interesting and unpredictable.
Take ‘unpredictable’ lightly, though: you’re not about to find 17-minute noise freakouts or Jeff Tweedy rapping on Being There
. But this album finds Wilco truly trying new things for the first time. There’s nothing like “Misunderstood”, being a seven-minute epic that mixes a forlorn piano-led ballad with crashes of dissonant guitar and violin sounds and weird tribal drumming, on A.M
or any Tupelo record, and that’s a good thing, especially considering that it’s the best song on Being There
. When the song transitions from the brooding, drunk-and-sad-at-a-piano beginning to the noisy, almost psychedelic ending, where Tweedy sings/screams ‘I’ll like to thank you all/for nothing/nothing at all’ in his endearingly off-key rasp, fighting to be heard over the ruckus; man, that moment will make your goddamn hair stand. It’s an enormous high point, concluding one of the best songs ever recorded, and it’s really only the first thing on Being There
Some songs, like the yearning “Hotel Arizona”, with its irresistible chorus, droning crashes of feedback, and dynamically monstrous ending, reach the bar that “Misunderstood” sets, but most of Being There
operates on a lesser level. Again, however, take ‘lesser’ lightly; even the ‘lesser’ songs on Being There
are better than half the stuff you’re currently listening to. You might pass over stuff like “Why Would You Wanna Live?” and “Someday Soon” upon first listen, but you’ll learn that they’re just as infectiously catchy and heartstring-pulling-ly poignant upon rediscovery. This is where Being There
’s length and scope becomes such a positive: there’s so much good here that repeated listens are encouraged and possibly essential to fully enjoy such a monster. Every listen you give Being There
finds something new for you to chew on; each unearths a brand new favorite-moment.
Wilco’s always been at their best when they’re pulling your heartstrings and emphasizing with your troubles, and this holds true for Being There
. Of these more melancholic songs, “Sunken Treasure” is far and away the best and most memorable, and it opens Being There
’s second disc perfectly. “Sunken Treasure” opens soothingly, with Tweedy banging away on an acoustic while multi-instrumentalists Jay Bennett and Max Johnston add flairs such as organs and pianos, but things escalate slowly, each verse leading to a distressingly touching chorus where Tweedy sings “I am so/out of tune/with you” hilariously out of tune. “Sunken Treasure” finally collapses upon itself at its middle, transforming into an ear-harming tsunami of crunchy feedback and swirling, blotting organs. The track eventually picks itself back up into the steady pace it’d previously established, before collapsing upon itself all over again, finally ending after seven minutes breeze by. It’s another highlight on an album that seems to be packed with them.
Don’t be mistaken that “Sunken Treasure” is the only slower, sadder song that you need to bother yourself with: “Someone Else’s Song”, which immediately follows “Treasure”, is a slow and nostalgically rootsy song that finds Tweedy almost sounding resigned and tired when he steadily sings “I keep on trying/I should’ve just let it go” and “you already know I love you/and I sound like what’s-his-name”. Tweedy's voice cracks with emotion when the choruses crash in; yours might too upon listen.
“Red-Eyed and Blue” is also worthy of note, and its simple instrumentation of mellow acoustic strumming and embellishing piano strikes and shimmering organ chords contrast with the reasonably weighty lyrics, which concern with late night binges of drugs and excesses of such nature. “What’s the World Got in Store”, with its faster pace (around mid-tempo), slightly less weighty lyrics (about love), and more ambitious instrumentation, is almost the complete reverse of “Red-Eyed and Blue”; it’s also just as good.
Thankfully, Being There
isn’t all heartbreak and slow tempos: stuff like “Outtasite (Outta Mind)” and “I Got You (At the End of the Century)” make up the most raucous material Wilco’s ever written. These songs are slitty-eyed singalongs that are best enjoyed completely inebriated, and the endearingly sloppy guitar playing and singing suggest they were performed in such a fashion as well. “Monday” is the best of these drunk-as-*** rockers, featuring riffs that could fit cleanly on Exile on Main Street
, and Tweedy’s lyrics, concerning themselves with stoned vagabonds and tired losers, could’ve easily dripped off of Jagger’s pen.
ends with “Dreamer in My Dreams”, which is a carefree, country-ish rocker accented by some impressive fiddling courtesy of Max Johnston. It’s not a rocker in the traditional sense, mainly due to an absence of massive riffs and or any electric instruments at all, but “Dreamer in My Dreams” rocks you more than almost any other song on the album. It’s also the perfect way to end Being There
: you’re undoubtedly going to feel some phantom fatigue when Being There
’s 77 minutes finally pass, mainly due to the high quality of material and the quick fashion you’re hit with it, and a carefree rocker, something you can just relax and jive
to, is the perfect way to relieve this fatigued tension.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
’s often (wrongly) cited as Wilco’s premier work, an experimental opus of such great heights that’d never be met again from the Chicagoan band. Being There
isn’t near as innovative as that album, in fact, it’s not that innovative at all; one could even say that the album’s experimental brand of alt-country is unremarkable compared to their later stuff, which could very much be true. However, never minding how ‘innovative’ Being There
is or not, there’s no denying how goddamn good the songs are here. For 77 minutes, Wilco just bangs out great song after great songs, doing absolutely no wrong at all on all 19 tracks. If anything marks a perfect album-- one that you’ll play almost every day, whether it’s “Sunken Treasure” when you’re down or “Monday” in the car or “Dreamer in My Dreams” when you’re stoned-- it’s perfect songs, and Being There
’s filled with them. Be prepared to fall in love with rock and roll all over again.