On first encounters, Cruel Country issues the whiff of perspiration over inspiration that such a tireless work routine suggests. At 21 tracks, Wilco second double album is fit to burst with songs, but at first they mainly appear to be slight, shy and retiring creatures, not that keen to hog the spotlight and make their presence felt. Keep listening, though, and richly alluring hidden depths soon appear.
You were right about the stars, each one is a setting sun
Cruel Country, Wilco's twelfth studio album, came attached to weighty expectations. That's to be expected when a revered band not only announces a sprawling twenty-one song record late in their career, while also vows an unexpected turn back to country music. All this news led this reviewer (and probably the reader as well) to expect an ambitious album possibly tackling the current state of America, as hinted at in the release title, as well as a significant sonic about-face (after all, despite Wilco's alt-country origins, they haven't been generally country in any significant sense since perhaps 1996's Being There).
Wilco haven't been considered a "country" band since their 1995 debut, and even then, it was a bit of a stretch. Despite Jeff Tweedy and co. 's roots in the alt-country scene of the late-'80s/early-'90s on A.
"I think there's been an assumption over the years that Wilco is some sort of country band", Jeff Tweedy writes in the accompanying notes to 'Cruel Country'. As the title suggests, Wilco's latest release is the album where, as Tweedy jokily puts it, "Wilco goes Country!" But don't let that playfulness mislead you. 'Cruel Country' is neither ironic, nor frivolous: it's a sprawling double-album that stands as one of Wilco's best, an ever-moving meditation on the quest for connection in a country that's often cruel but always worthy, in Tweedy's eyes, of forgiveness.