Around eight times out of ten, we stumble onto the music we write about here ourselves. The other twenty percent comes from two sources; online recommendations and the obsessions of our friends. While it’s tempting to discount the latter (I, for instance, had a serious Paramore problem in 2009), if someone is really, really into one particular act, I usually find that there’s a very good reason for it. Not always; I have friends who swear by Jack Johnson like he’s the next surfing Jesus, but mostly. My entire knowledge and appreciation of Wilco comes from a fabulously talented woman called Claire Collins, who is a publicist and manager to many of the artists we’ve written about on these pages (like this guy and these guys) and, safe to say, is utterly bonkers for this band. The only reason I ever checked them out in the first place was because she cited their 2005 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot as the one which changed her life in an interview for a trade publication. So when I finally found myself watching the band tear up the Opera House recently, I was not at all surprised to see her a few seats down from me, totally losing her marbles to every single song.
The first Wilco album I owned was their first one, and the next was their most recent. Neither of those give you a very good overall picture of the band, as their best output came in the middle of their career thus far. While you can trace the development, in their newer material, to my mind the best material happened post-2000, including the record which houses this track, Sky Blue Sky from 2007. It’s here that you really get to see the dazzling scope of this band in full flight, and it’s after they hired the prodigious guitarist Nels Cline, bringing their total guitar attack up to three. Bands with lots of guitarists are usually really annoying. They all try to either a) play over each other and see who can shred the fastest or b) play the same riff in different octaves and then have one guy noodling over the top. Wilco are different and ‘Impossible Germany’, an absolute stunner of a track, is proof. From the very outset, the interplay between Cline, frontman Jeff Tweedy and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone is crystal clear and invigorating. It helps that as an arrangement, this song ends up nowhere near where it starts, too. The quiet imploring of Tweedy’s vocals soon open themselves up into a shimmering harmonic ocean, and it’s only towards the end that it starts to make serious waves.
Because I’m not a diehard fan, I was only partially aware that this song holds special significance for Wilco fans as The Song That Goes Off Live. Brief research into how many times it pops up on YouTube without even really being a single should confirm that, but everyone in the house (or in my case, The Opera House) was geared up for this song before it even got the its face-melting conclusion. By now, if you’ve listened far enough, the song has moved from minor to major and really hit it’s stride, replacing delicacy with a swagger and opening up the floor for the three stars out front to play off each other. It’s something that you really do need to see before you die, but the track does a pretty damn good job of catching it. Those riffs that they end up playing in unison are so contained and complex that you can imagine they would have sat for hours trying to track it out. Now it seems bolted into their DNA, like they all came up with the semi-quaver triplet descending line that rolls up into a bend through ESP together. I heard someone criticise this album as ‘Dad rock’ somewhere, which is such bullshit. It’s rock, pure and simple. Nobody can shred like this after fingerpicking lines as gorgeous as that. It’s simply otherworldly. I am really glad this song goes for six minutes. And I’m really glad I took Claire’s obsession to heart.
Wilco – ‘Impossible Germany’