TITLED after George Lucas’ sci-fi epic and bearing a picture of a cute cat on the sleeve, this unexpected ninth album in two decades from Jeff Tweedy’s Chicagoan indie-rock troubadours could have done little more to attempt to conquer the internet.
Whether that will have helped the band’s profile or will encourage further sales when Star Wars arrives in physical form later in the year appears to be a moot point in light of the email which turned up in the inbox of downloaders a few days later. “We hope you’re enjoying the new tunes,” it ran, adding, “we consider ourselves lucky to be in the position to give you this music free of charge, but we do so knowing not every band, label or studio can do the same.” It then listed a roster of new records Tweedy and co suggest we buy, turning Star Wars into a rather lovely advert for bands who haven’t quite achieved Wilco’s success.
To the record rather than its means of delivery, then, and it proves to be an impressive piece of work that bears comparison with much of Tweedy’s past repertoire, placing its stall as ever at the intersection of folksy country, barroom blues and scuzzy alternative rock. Amusingly, there’s a short test for curious downloaders with short attention spans with the opening track EKG, an atonal and seasick-inducing clang of careening guitar riffs seemingly designed to weed out the “I don’t like it if it’s not got a good tune” brigade.
Entrance exam passed, they’ll no doubt be pleased to note that the following More… is a more Beatlesesque, swooshing, swirling, psych-country rocker founded on a woozy campfire singalong chorus, while there’s a powerful glam strut to Random Name Generator, one of the record’s highlights.
Three tracks in, and it’s the variety as much as Tweedy’s endearingly frayed persona which pleases. “I never held your gaze/I’ve never known my place,” he grumbles impudently on The Joke Explained. There’s a certain trad appeal to Wilco, but there’s attitude with it.
You Satellite bears a laid-back sneer which is part Lou Reed, part Ian McCulloch, and there are hints of frayed brilliance to Pickled Ginger’s jittery, fuzz-toned racket and the knowingly gloomy balladeering of Where Do I Begin and the theremin epic Magnetized.
As befits such a singular talent as Tweedy’s, it’s a record which delights in places and falls short of its grand ambition in others – but at that price, who can complain?