As one of my favourite bands, here’s how I rank Wilco’s catalog. There is no bad album. I’d go as far as saying they’re all very good even.
Recorded at the same time as Star Wars, this collection of songs is its softer, less agitated counterpart. It’s a good, cohesive album but it’s also one without a single standout moment. I wouldn’t call it essential to Wilco’s catalog.
Their debut album was released very much in the shadow of Son Volt’s Trace, following Uncle Tupelo’s split. It didn’t, and still doesn’t get much praise, but it’s quite good. It sounds like an accessible Uncle Tupelo album. I’d recommend this for Wilco fans trying to get into Uncle Tupelo, but not for someone who’s trying to get into Wilco.
Sky Blue Sky
Of course Impossible Germany is the highlight here, but the rest of this album is a little underrated. It’s often considered Tweedy’s recovery album and that best describes the album’s overall sound. It’s cleaner, happier and regarded as a positive closer to a trilogy that is Yankee Hotel Foxtrot/A Ghost Is Born/Sky Blue Sky.
This album kind of made Wilco relevant again. It’s weird and a lot of fun but not much about this album stands out enough for me to bump it higher in my ranking. Random Name Generator and You Satellite are the obvious highlights here. Everything else is very good, but only within the context of the album.
The Whole Love
On what is possibly their most experimental album it feels as though the band spend too much time trying to find this album’s sound, rather than committing to one that works and running with it. That said, there is plenty of good stuff here. It just never really feels like a cohesive body of work.
Kicking Television: Live in Chicago
The recordings here come from a series of shows played in Chicago between the releases of A Ghost is Born and Sky Blue Sky. So although it’s our first time hearing Nels and Pat as part of Wilco, there’s no mind-melting performance of Impossible Germany here. That aside, it’s a live album that really does justice to Wilco’s reputation as an incredible band to see live.
Wilco (The Album)
It’s simple, straight forward, and there’s not a bad track on it. Many will say it’s their least good album. This album doesn’t really try to be anything special yet somehow achieves more than those that try. It's very underrated.
Ode to Joy
This is Wilco’s protest album. Some songs are their saddest sounding since A Ghost Is Born. Others are their happiest since the Whole Love. The entire album is held together through its minimalist writing and recording style. The songs are simple and full of nice sounding textures. It’s by far their best since they last reinvented themselves on Star Wars.
Like on most double albums, I feel there’s a stronger side here. The first disc is where this album really earns it’s great reputation. If disc one was all there was of Being There, it would be my second favourite Wilco album. There are gems on disc two like Sunken Treasure and Kingpin, but for the most part the rest of disc two has less to offer.
It’s a damn near perfect album full of classic Wilco tracks. Summerteeth is the first record written by the short-lived duo of Tweedy-Bennett and not by Tweedy alone.
A Ghost Is Born
Jeff Tweedy bares it all on this one. This is his most revealing work and one of Wilco’s more cohesive albums. The guitar work on this album is also my favourite across their discography and Nels hadn’t even joined yet.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
As it should be. It’s one of the biggest alternative albums of the last twenty years for a reason. I don’t have much else to say here.