Reprise, 1999

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


Spin's latest revision list of "The 100 Best Albums of All Time" has Radiohead's OK Computer sitting comfortably at the top. Wilco's ambitious Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is included as well. Both albums were able to take electronic blips and buzzes and make them sound warm and more human than anything released that year. Both of these albums were career peaks (so far) for the bands that issued them. And both artists released an album beforehand that arguably was a better "front to back" listen, yet their follow-up was so ambitious that it inevitably was known as a better "album." In short, in rock star algebra terms... The Bends is to OK Computer as Summerteeth is to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

Musically and songwriting-wise, Summerteeth is complex. An album reviewer could do a lengthy review on just the song "A Shot In The Arm." Jeff Tweedy's songwriting is the perfect example of using details to tell a story without obsessing over the details: "the ashtray says you were up all night," "your pillow wept and covered your eyes" and "you finally slept while the sun caught fire" are great examples. And that's only the first stanza. Tweedy keeps repeating the chorus in a weary monotone until he raises his voice and urgency the fifth time he yells "Maybe all I need is a shot in the arm." When he says "something in my veins / bloodier than blood" -- it could be about drugs or more abstractly, depression. While all that drama is going on, Jay Bennett provides a beautiful piano riff and Ken Coomer keeps the percussion simple and solid, making it an instantly memorable highlight to my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Summerteeth.

Summerteeth would be the last full-length album Jay Bennett would record with Wilco. Bennett's departure solidified Wilco as Jeff Tweedy's band, but Bennett provided a manic energy for Summerteeth. The loss of a guitarist hurts most any band, but Bennett's departure was especially painful to Wilco. Just take a look at the instruments Bennett played on Summerteeth: piano, keyboards, bell, lap steel, synthesizer, bass and banjo.

As the title suggests, Summerteeth is a definitive summer album. Tweedy's lyrics remain twisted, but there's a giddy restlessness to tracks like "I'm Always In Love" and "Can't Stand It." Don't worry though - fans of Tweedy's darker topics will find plenty to wade through. You can pretty much sum up Tweedy's take on significant others with lines like "I dreamed about killing you again last night / And it felt alright to me," "My feelings hid / She begs me not to hit her" and the 'I guess it's a compliment' line "He feels lucky to have you here / In his kitchen, in your chair / Sometimes he forgets that you're even there."

John Stirrant's easy bass line and Bennett's light touches on lap steel guitar give the title track a breezy feel. Just listening to the music alone would put you in the mood to go to the beach. Then Tweedy throws a left punch in with lines like "One summer a suicide ... He hits snooze twice before he dies." With such depressing lyrics, Tweedy's vocals don't fall into the deep, wallowing turmoil of a Trent Reznor or Tom Waits. Instead, he keeps his voice light and warbly, perfectly matching the band's laid-back, but musically accomplished vibe.

Summerteeth was Wilco's last straightforward album, sort of… Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born definitely upped the experimentation. Yankee made Wilco indie superstars, but Summerteeth is Wilco at their open-hearted best. Six years after its release, Summerteeth still is as fresh as a farmer's market.

Rating: A-

User Rating: A


Via Chicago....A Shot in the Arm and She's a jar make this worthy of an A rating imo.

© 2005 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Reprise, and is used for informational purposes only.