The drum rumble that starts off this two-disc set and soon turns to feedback suggests Wilco certainly isn't lagging in its quest to remove itself from Uncle Tupelo territory. Being There finds leader Jeff Tweedy combining his love of pop style--still a little bit country, yes, but with a lot more of the Byrds, the Beatles, and even the Beach Boys--with the possibilities afforded by mixing post-punk energy and rural poignancy. His will to rock--already apparent on Wilco's debut A.M. via Stonesy rockers like "Casino Queen"--is made plain. Quite plain, in fact; after "I Got You" and "Dreamer in My Dreams" and--to varying degrees--about a half-dozen other songs, a cynical sort might be forgiven for wondering if "Stonesy" as a style might be just about fully explored, even if it has been resonant enough to provide most of the Replacements with at least semiviable careers.
The music has an emotional rise and fall that is alternatingly brazen and subdued, full of piss and full of pain...It's as if Wilco is trying to re-create a period of transition and change--youthful or not--by applying the patterns of classic pop to its subjects. Make no mistake about it, Tweedy is the hidden rock stylist people always mistook Paul Westerberg for--check out the w-hoo-hoo-hoos in the chorus of "Say You Miss Me" or his use of a clavinet (sound) on songs like "Monday"--but that still doesn't get in the way of his delivering an intense, melancholy realism that would be right at home on Springsteen's classic Nebraska ("Someone Else's Song").
Tweedy's themes are classic, too: Hope, heartbreak, and regeneration--or at least recovery--run through both discs and are linked and balanced by the heads-tails combo "Outtasite (Outta Mind)" and "Outta Mind (Outta Sight)." The lyrics that follow the opening blast of feedback ("Back in your old neighborhood/The cigarettes taste so good") perfectly capture the seduction of nostalgia, while the next line ("But you're so misunderstood") presents with equally sharp simplicity the fallacy behind such a return to the past. Although it sometimes seems suffused with slacker malaise, the music itself provides the answer; on "Why Would You Wanna Live"--perhaps the most perfect example of Tweedy's pop sense--the Nilssonish verses are set against the sad lethargy of the chorus. The melancholy of that contrast is resolved--for the moment, at least--in a pretty life-goes-on fiddle solo. Like that song, Being There is definitely one work; not overtly conceptual, it nonetheless has an ebb and flow that mirrors life.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.