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What would love be without wishful thinking?

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A great question, and one of several great lines from the new Wilco album, but you have to hear it in the context of the song to get the full impact. “Wishful Thinking” is probably my favorite track so far from the new album, although at this early date that’s still likely to change a few more times.

Wandering around over at Pitchfork Media, I learn several months after the rest of the world that Jeff Tweedy is (by now, probably was) in rehab for painkillers.

Now, thousands of people are in rehab, and I very sincerely hope they can all tame their demons and get on with their lives. For largely selfish reasons, though, I’m far more concerned about Tweedy. Perhaps it’s because on Tuesday I bought two new albums–Wilco’s A Ghost is Born and Brian Wilson’s sadly titled Gettin in over my head. Only later did it occur to me that I had simultaneously purchased the new albums from the people responsible for the greatest musical accomplishments of the 20th and 21st century.

I’ve listened to the new Wilco about four times now, and the Wilson only once, but the contrast is striking. Ghost is the work of a genius quite near the top of his game–less immediate impact than YHF and a bit more challenging and probably not quite as good, but highly original and pretty darn spectacular. Jim O’Rourke has never been put to better use than as a partner for Tweedy, he’s been instrumental in helping Tweedy live up to the promise he showed prior to YHF.

Wilson’s new album is hard to listen to. Not because it’s bad, exactly, but because it’s so tragic that it can’t be as good as should be, in some alternative universe where Wilson doesn’t lose his grip on reality as well as his enormous talent 30-odd years ago. In all of his post-Eugene Landy solo work, one can find hints at his genius–it’s still there, somewhere, but he’s no longer got a connection to it–he can’t tap into it. Here, he comes a lot less close than he did on Imagination. All the big-name guest musicians only make matters worse–Clapton, McCartney, etc. obviously want Brian Wilson back too, but they can’t make it happen. Wilson, of course, only really had one chance to put his musical genius on proper display, although hints of it leak out in much of the rest of the Beach Boy’s early catalogue and some of his solo work (the closest thing he ever had to a Jim O’Rourke was his collaboration with Van Dyke Parks on Smile and Orange Crate Art–the latter is more Parks than Wilson, but it still may be the second best album his name is on).

Am I comparing Jeff Tweedy to Brian Wilson? Maybe I am. I’m generally pretty subborn on the notion that Wilson is incomparable, but Tweedy’s got a particular talent for infusing brilliant pop compositions with a simialr sort of wistful helpless-but-not-hopeless sensibility. His music has yet to reach the dizzying heights of Wilson’s, but he comes across as more confident and centered. Hopefully his genius is less fragile and we’ll get at least a few more albums while he’s still at this level. I really, really hope that rehab went well.

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