Review Summary: Not Wilco's best, but a great summer album well worth your time and effort.
The surprise release has become an intriguing trend within the contemporary world of music. With the interestingly-titled Star Wars, Wilco has added their prominent name (at least within indie circles) to the phenomenon. Star Wars proves to be a rock-solid addition to the band’s fundamentally sound discography, certainly exceeding the modest expectations which might be formed by a surprise release with the wonderful price of “free”.
Musically, Star Wars has a distinct sound throughout. The album is heavily rock-oriented, with occasional touches of the now-distant folkish and alt-country origins of the band. Simply from the brief opener “EKG”, a noisy guitar instrumental, it is evident that the album will be an interestng trip. Probably fortunately, the rest of the tracks do contain vocals. They are a mixture of hard-rocking songs (by Wilco’s moderate standards) and smoother folkish numbers. Of the former, “Random Name Generator” stands out, driven along by its propulsive and rocking rhythms, as does “Pickled Ginger”, which demonstrates the band’s surprising adoption of punk and noise rock influences. The more-or-less folk-rock “Taste The Ceiling” meanwhile distinguishes itself among the latter, as an immensely relaxing song. Meanwhile, “Where Do I Begin” is a touching ballad, arguably the finest song on Star Wars, and one that emphasizes the dualistic nature of the album, with its final minute dominated by shrieking guitars.
Star Wars does have its share of missteps. The initial track “EKG”, with its somewhat experimental nature, will likely be divisive for listeners. “You Satellite”, by far the longest track on the release, seems to go on excessively without sufficient direction. Meanwhile, penultimate track “King Of You” does little to make itself memorable. Nonetheless, a sizable majority of the songs here are of high quality, and even the weak links are far from truly bad.
Ultimately, Star Wars is not a particularly challenging album. This is neither praise nor criticism, simply a statement. While lyrically Tweedy, as always, presents some profound sentiments, for the most part this album is remarkably easy to listen to. Star Wars might be a mixture of heavy rock tracks with more relaxed folky jams, but it all flows together in a way that was seemingly made for chilled-out summer listening. While it is unlikely to be seen as the crown jewel of Wilco’s acclaimed career, Star Wars achieves its aim and more. As a free surprise gift to the fans, something like this is hard to top.