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Relaxed but serious

(Autumn de Wilde/Nonesuch Records/AP)


Relaxed but serious

Wilco doesn't always look through liberal-colored glasses

Wilco, which like Son Volt had its origins in the alternative country-rock band Uncle Tupelo, has been releasing albums since 1995. It won't be challenging the longevity of Aerosmith (36 years) or U2 (29) anytime soon, especially since only Jeff Tweedy and John Stirratt remain from the original lineup. Still, surviving 14 years in any configuration these days is practically Methuselan.

Coming from such elder statesmen, the deliberately nondescript title of Wilco's latest album, Wilco (The Album) (Nonesuch), indicates both an ironic self-awareness and an impressive refusal to take itself seriously. Funnier yet is the extension of the joke to the title of the first song "(Wilco [The Song])," in which Tweedy encourages put-upon members of his audience to cheer up because "Wilco love you, baby."

Cynics might ascribe Wilco's relaxed demeanor-a prettier and more easygoing album by a major act you'll be hard pressed to find-to the fact that the presidential candidate for whom the sextet stumped in 2008 now inhabits the White House. Two songs late in the album, however, suggest that Wilco doesn't always view the world through liberal-colored glasses.

In "Solitaire" Tweedy confesses to having nourished a solipsistic pride that isolated him from others. "Took too long to see," he sings, "I was wrong to believe in me only." Then, as if to dramatize the ramifications of realizing that no man is an island, he sings the very next song, "I'll Fight," from the perspective of a soldier who risks death on the battlefield despite knowing full well that, "like Jesus on the cross," his vicarious sacrifice will go unappreciated by those whose freedom it secured.

When two songs later Tweedy sings, "Don't try to tell me my everlasting love is a lie," we know he knows what he means.