From 1967-1972, The Rolling Stones released Between the Buttons, Flowers, Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main St. Such a run can only be matched by The Beatles, who released their entire catalog in only seven years, and Bob Dylan, whose output from 1963-1969, represents the greatest run ever for a songwriter. Such consistent runs have been few-and-far-between over the past 35+ years. R.E.M. were great for a little over a decade, but a few records during that period (e.g. Green) were bumps in an otherwise perfect ten-year run.
When considering the premiere acts of today, critics and fans alike almost always point to Radiohead. But if you step back and look at the band's recorded material over its 16 years in existence, there are numerous missteps, most notably their 1993 debut Pablo Honey and the 2001 snoozer Amnesiac. Very good band? Sure. Deserving of a slot in the paragraph above? No.
And then's there's Wilco. No, they're not held in the regard that Radiohead are, but when considering their output over their 15 year-career, well, they're the one band in its prime that might be deserving of the company above. Formed in 1994 following the hasty demise of the seminal alt.country outfit Uncle Tupelo, Wilco have now released seven studio records (nine if you count the Mermaid Avenue collaborations with Billy Bragg), and every single one has been met with critical adoration. 2002's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is widely considered their best, but the balance of the catalog holds up alongside this near masterpiece. From the Brian Wilson inspired Summerteeth to the straightforward americana of Sky Blue Sky, Wilco have touched on just about every imaginable sound and direction, and in so doing, have miraculously held onto its fans from its rootsy early days while picking up listeners from many disparate worlds along their 15-year circuitous path.
This month brings the release of Wilco (The Album) (June 30th on Nonesuch), an album that rounds out a solid trifecta following Foxtrot. No, it doesn't have the ambition of Foxtrot or the bombast of 1996's Being There, but it's a beautiful collection of songs. "One Wing" is one of the better songs frontman Jeff Tweedy has penned in some time, while the pretty collaboration with iPod-star Feist "You and I," is perfectly timed as the centerpiece of the record. As you move past the midpoint mark you're greeted with one of the best songs the band's ever recorded in "I'll Fight," a song that incorporates religion, love, devotion and war. Or at least that's what we hear on the surface. But like most of Wilco's best works, the songs leave plenty of space for the listener to surmise his or her own meaning, which has been one of many hallmarks of Wilco's career. The records and the songs within feel less a creation of the band, and more a part of us. As Tweedy sings on the opening track, "A sonic shoulder for you to cry on, Wilco, Wilco will love you baby." And with one great record after another, it's hard for us to not return the sentiment.