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Being There – Wilco

Being There

(1996), 9.5/10
Shortly after recording 1995’s A.M., multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett joined Wilco, a creative force who complemented Tweedy beautifully in Wilco’s early albums. While Being There retains a distinct country tinge, already Tweedy’s clearly shying away from the territory his former band explored; rather than the Black Flag/Carter Family hybrid that informed Uncle Tupelo, Being There is a sprawling double album which is steeped in rock and roll heritage.

As well as evoking classic rock groups, like The Band in the clavinet laden ‘Kingpin’ and The Stones in the closing ‘Dreamer In My Dreams’, the tracks that open each disc reference the redemptive yet hollow power of music: “Music is my savior/I was maimed by rock and roll” Tweedy sings in ‘Sunken Treasure’, while ‘Misunderstood’ drowns futility in music “Short on long term goals/There’s a party there that we ought to go to/If you still love rock and roll/You still love rock and roll?”

While Tweedy came across as the precocious kid brother to the ornery Farrar in Uncle Tupelo, given a double album to his own, he’s revealed as the sensitive, tortured male, obsessed with picking apart relationships. While there’s nothing here as extreme as the experiments on later Wilco albums, there’s plenty of textural variation with various forays into country and rock, while moments like the psychedelic introduction to ‘Misunderstood’ and the sudden piano outburst that closes ‘Red-Eyed And Blue’ do point the way to the future. And to balance introversion like the superlative ‘Say You Miss Me’ and the pensive ‘What’s The World Got In Store’, Tweedy also pulls out the breezy power pop of ‘I Got You (At The End Of The Century)’ and the brashy, horn-laden ‘Monday’.

Even above its emotional range and its appreciation of rock tradition, what really makes Being There outstanding is Tweedy’s ability to pull out memorable melodies and evocative words so consistently. While Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is arguably an even stronger record, that record’s also a triumph of studio craft; Being There showcases Tweedy as a great songwriter come into his own and putting forward his own double album, worthy to stand in the pantheon alongside the bands that inspired him.

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