In contrast to its postproduction-enhanced predecessors, Wilco’s new “Sky Blue Sky,” due this week via Nonesuch, is startling in its simplicity: an album recorded straight to tape with hardly any overdubs, and Jeff Tweedy singing live in the same room with the musicians. The singer estimates at least half the songs feature vocals captured on the first take.
The inscrutable turns of phrase (i.e. “I am an American aquarium drinker”) that marked 2002’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” and 2004’s “A Ghost Is Born” have been largely dispensed with. Instead, Tweedy’s narrators clearly struggle to be heard, to be loved and to be worthy of love on poignant songs like “Leave Me (Like You Found Me),” the drumless “Please Be Patient With Me,” “Either Way” and the goose- bump-inducing closer, “On and On and On,” which Tweedy wrote for his dad after his mother passed away.
Tweedy insists he didn’t plan to tone down the experimentation of Wilco’s recent albums, although he admits when he thought to himself, “What record do I want to hear right now?,” the answer was, “I want to hear somebody just sing me some songs.” Bassist John Stirratt adds, “We had rockers that existed with these songs for a while, but this sort of mood took over with tunes like ‘You Are My Face,’ ” he says. “We had roughs in this sequence early on, and it felt so much like a record even at that point. It was like, ‘God, this is the record that is trying to present itself to us.'”
When it came time to write lyrics, Tweedy pushed himself to keep things personal. “I have to stay focused on what’s really going on in my world, or I’m not writing about anything,” he adds. “I feel like I’ve gotten through a lot, and I feel a lot better about my life. I feel like I’m able to contribute a lot more to my family. I don’t think any of that is sad, silly or embarrassing to talk about.”