Ah, yes. This puppy leaked yesterday evening. So here goes:
Let's be perfectly honest, this one is better than Sky Blue Sky. Not that Sky Blue Sky was a bad record, but in any case that was a record of a whole band trying to find its groove. It's only natural. Just as A.M. was Wilco finding its legs post-Tupelo, Sky Blue Sky was Wilco re-finding those legs after a long period of instability. And by long period, I mean a really, really long period of instability. But that's not the point. The band has now found its groove, and it's finally shaping up to be what it could always be.
I don't want to spoil the album too much, so I'm just going to disclose some general thoughts. Standout tracks, in my opinion, include "Deeper Down," "One Wing," and "You Never Know." Opinion on that matter has been all over the place, but those are the ones that are the best in my eyes. "Deeper Down" recalls the Soma version of Hummingbird (for all of you with the Wilco book CD from Learning How to Die, you will know what I'm talking about). "One Wing" fits in the mold of "Impossible Germany" off of the previous entry, but it's more compact with a slightly darker feel. "You Never Know" is basically George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" with extra fuzzed out guitars and a different main break. This is what disturbs me most about the track. There's even straight up replication of some of Harrison's slide work on this track. I love and adore George Harrison, and so "My Sweet Lord" gets its love too. So yeah, "You Never Know" is a great track, and it wears its influence on its sleeve.
But as such a big fan of George Harrison, man, if I was Harrison (and alive, for that matter) I'm not sure if I would be pissed or honored with such an obvious take on the tune. For Wilco's sake, I hope nothing happens with regards to any lawsuits. I doubt anything will, because A. Copyright law is too stringent to protect everything and B. not enough of the track is exclusively replicated to justify any action, in my eyes. So yeah, that's kind of my weird rant on the track. So I love this "You Never Know" tune a lot, but I'm also sad that it takes to heavily from "My Sweet Lord." It's one of the best tracks on the record, regardless.
The only real down point on the record "occurs" with "Country Disappeared," but in its own way it's a charming little number. It has to A. follow "You Never Know" and B. pull the album back from a more expansive sound, so it satisfies its function pretty well, but on the whole it's probably the weakest track. The other tracks are all solid to begin with, "I'll Fight" and "Bull Black Nova" are super groovy, while the Feist duet track "You and I" has a pretty well done backwards guitar part (though "I'm Only Sleeping" by the Beatles takes the cake with best backwards guitar parts).
With regards to "album album" things, like flow and coherency, it really does its job. No sudden, unjustified turns, and at a crisp length of slightly less than 45 minutes, the record flows well while letting some of its more disparate ideas ("Bull Black Nova" and "Sonny Feeling" come to mind) stick out.
So, yeah. There is nothing overtly wrong with the record. It's a really good listen. Once I (and you, if it really bugs you as much as it bugs me) get past the fact that a track is more of a recasting of "My Sweet Lord" musically than perhaps a homage, then it goes from good to pretty great.
76/100 (before forgiveness for the "My Sweet Lord" recasting)
I mean, I think I should be able to get over it, so:
84/100 (after forgiveness for the "My Sweet Lord" recasting)
Perhaps, though, I'm reading "You Never Know" too negatively. Harrison tribute, perhaps? If it is, then man, major marks in my book:
88/100 (if "You Never Know" is supposed to be a Harrison tribute)