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Wilco - Summerteeth

How the hell did Wilco make this record?

Seriously. How did they do it? How did these four Chi-towners held the y'allternative torch the highest over the past few years, while the genre exploded in popularity, step past all that, regroup, and put forth the proposition that you can petition the world with pop?

These really may just be questions for the ages. When great bands get greater, it's one of the sublime thrills of life. Usually, after some time has passed and a band's positive transformation can be properly digested, it makes a bit of sense. Achtung Baby took a lot of people by surprise, but it didn't come from out of nowhere. And Wilco's transformation makes sense too. Jeff Tweedy, Jay Bennett and the boys sure seemed like they had it in them from the start. The debut A.M. laid a groundwork of sorts, and the follow-up Being There took the sound in a few different directions. Last year's album of Woody Guthrie songs with Billy Bragg, Mermaid Avenue, cemented their rooysness. And while Summerteeth is an altogether different animal, it is not such a complete departure that none of its songs wound as though they were created by the same band that cut "Outta Mind (Outta Site)" and "I Must Be High."

It's just that this is not an album many people expected them to make. A Few purists might wish these guys would stick to the alt-country shtick and, to be sure, they can do it better than anyone else who's trying. But maybe that's part of the key—when you're the best, you need to try harder. So while Summerteeth is not a power pop album by any stretch, it is a pop/rock creation replete with squeaky keyboards ("I'm Always In Love"), melodies far shinier and happier than the lyrics contained within them ("When You Wake Up Feeling Old"), baroque touches ("Pieholden Suite"), and perfectly precise production on every song. Summerteeth is the best Beatles album of 1999 in the same way that Elliott Smith's XO was the best Beatles album of 1998. Turn up the treble.