Ranking Wilco’s 10 Studio Albums (From Worst to Best)
You wouldn’t be exactly wrong if you said that Wilco has never had a big hit, but from the perspective of an avid Wilco fan like myself, it doesn’t really mean much. Their newly released music rarely gets any airtime, but their passion about touring makes for an incredible live experience. Each one of the group’s ten records is unique, and after listening to them in chronological order, it is clear that their music has evolved tremendously. It is impossible to label Wilco with only one genre; their early work mixes country with alternative rock, but as of late, their music has definitely been more experimental, both lyrically and instrumentally. Feel free to disagree, but here’s how I rank each of Wilco’s ten albums.
- Wilco (the album) (2009)
I hate putting any Wilco record at the bottom of any list because each one is incredibly unique, but I am least hesitant about calling Wilco (the album) the group’s weakest. For many of its tracks, Tweedy’s melodies are enjoyable to listen to, but the actual lyrics can get a little repetitive.
Favorite track: “One Wing”
- Sky Blue Sky (2007)
It’s hard for me to rank this one in this particular spot because there are a few songs on here that I would consider some of my favorites, but in my opinion, Sky Blue Sky lacks the kind of flow that Wilco seems to obtain on pretty much any other record. In addition, the track “What Light” is probably the cheesiest song in the group’s entire catalog.
Favorite track: “Impossible Germany”
- Star Wars (2015)
I did not really know what to expect when Wilco surprised us with the release of Star Wars (we were able to download it for free), but after listening to this comparatively short album -- about 34 minutes in length -- there are evident pros and cons. There is a nice balance between songs with catchy lyrics and feel-good rhythm (“Random Name Generator”) and softer, more folk-like songs (“The Joke Explained”). On the other hand, I would understand if you said that this album is a little boring.
Favorite track: “Pickled Ginger”
- A.M. (1995)
Wilco’s debut album has gotten mixed reviews, but in my opinion, this one along with Summerteeth, is one of the group’s most happy-sounding compilations. No track in particular makes you think about whether or not there is a deeper meaning behind Tweedy’s lyrics, but in this case, the simplicity makes A.M. a very enjoyable listen. This is a good one to listen to if you were to go on a lengthy road trip or if you just wanted to hang by the ocean.
Favorite track: “It’s Just That Simple”
- Schmilco (2016)
Their most recent record definitely includes some of the softest material in their catalog. It seems to flow a little better than Star Wars does, but the overall nature of the record is very similar. Most of the tracks are no longer than 3 minutes, and Tweedy continues to perfect the balance between his lyrics and his acoustic guitar. In addition, Nels Cline continues to create his own extraordinary sounds in tracks like “Common Sense” and “Locator.”
Favorite track: “Someone to Lose”
- The Whole Love (2011)
Listening to The Whole Love after Wilco’s self-titled album, you can tell that there is a lot more disparity from a loudness perspective. “Art of Almost,” the album’s opener, appears on virtually every one of Wilco’s setlists when they perform live. It also includes some more of the group’s “anthemic” tracks, like “I Might” and “Standing O.” The softer songs are also very pleasing, as they incorporate more strings than they ever have.
Favorite track: “Dawned on Me”
- Being There (1996)
Arguably the album that resembles the alternative-country vibe of Tweedy’s former band, Uncle Tupelo, the 19-track Being There was undoubtedly a step up from A.M.. The concepts addressed in this record arose from a stressful period in Tweedy’s life, as he was trying to quit smoking marijuana and attempting to resolve his family problems. Yes, the record is over 75 minutes in length, but once again, Wilco achieves a great balance between songs with a “feel good” vibe and songs that make you want to reminisce about your best and worst experiences.
Favorite track: “Outtasite (Outta Mind)”
- A Ghost Is Born (2004)
A Ghost Is Born capped off Wilco’s transition from what many call “dad-rock” to more experimental work. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is their ultimate masterpiece, but Ghost definitely has plenty of bright spots. The opener, “At Least That’s What You Said”, finishes on a powerful note with Tweedy’s edgy solo. Also, this record is when we first discover that Wilco simply likes to jam, even over an eleven-minute span (listen to “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”).
Favorite track: “Handshake Drugs”
- Summerteeth (1999)
I believe that Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot are definitive masterpieces. I knew I would place them in my top 2 before writing this article, but it took me awhile figuring out which one I liked more. Tweedy’s lyrics here were also heavily influenced by his marital problems, as were the lyrics on Being There, but Tweedy rarely wrote down the lyrics on Being There. Tweedy discussed how writing down the lyrics on Summerteeth made his messages more clear to him. Overall, Summerteeth was as close to pop as Wilco ever got, and they nailed it.
Favorite track: All of them
- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)
I’m sure every big Wilco fan would agree with me if I stated that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is not only their best album, but also one of the best albums of the ‘00s. “Jesus, etc.” was the first Wilco song I had ever heard, and “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” is probably one of my favorites ever. I expect Wilco to continue making great music, but I do not think they will ever make another album that will be nearly as great as this one. This is definitely one of my desert-island discs.
Favorite track: All of them
Now that you have the guide to Wilco, you should definitely buckle up and check them out.
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