Wilco released their debut record ‘A.M.’ in 1995, putting an earnest, modest stamp on their beginnings. Throughout the years that have passed since this record debuted, the band have gone on to create a highly diverse and, generally speaking, ambitious catalog. Formed after the breakup of Uncle Tupelo, that band’s leader, Jeff Tweedy, went on to form Wilco shortly after. Needless to say, though this is a debut record, it feels more mature than a typical debut record might due to Tweedy having been around the block a time or two. On this record, though, you can definitely tell that the band are attempting to find their footing.
From the opening track of this record, “I Must Be High”, the presence of a relaxed, loosened Tweedy seems to be at the helm. The following track, “Casino Queen”, carries itself at a faster speed than the previous track as the listener becomes exposed to all of Tweedy’s influences being worn on his sleeve; there are hints of Tom Petty and Neil Young, to name just a couple. It’s the next track, however, that easily runs off with the crown for being this record’s best track. “Box Full of Letters” unfolds with a melody that feels so natural to the ear, so obvious, and yet, every second of the track feels as fresh as it possibly could. This track has all of the power of all great, timeless tracks. Nevertheless, as this record goes on, it becomes quite clear that this isn’t a record that possesses the overall adventurous spirit of later Wilco records, nor does it have the rough, unrefined edge that defined much of Uncle Tupelo’s output. Of course, this record isn’t as desperate as much of Uncle Tupelo’s material; it doesn’t get hung up on the raw deal that is living as a low-income individual in the midwest. Rather, this record exists as a non-consequential piece of lighthearted bluesy, alternative country rock. A separate knock on this record is the fact that it is extremely top-heavy. However, it’s worth noting that none of the material that follows the essential three tracks is of a poor quality, it’s just not up to par with the standout tracks.
So overall, we’re looking at a pretty good record here. It isn’t highly original or inventive, to be sure, but it does present a tried and true, dependable format that works effortlessly. One of the reasons this works so well on this record is the mere presence of Tweedy, who, as always, carries himself in such a proper, sure manner. Even on the record’s clumsiest moments, his inherent charisma is more than capable of allowing the band to pick back up where the elements that were going right had left off. Sadly, there are a few too many instances on this record where he is called upon to accomplish this. The rest of the band sound good and tight, albeit a bit confused with the overall direction that this record marches in. You can hardly blame them, because this is an often off balance record, though a record that sports some damn good material.