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Being There

Being There used to be my least favorite Wilco album. That award has now been unceremoniously taken by the coma-inducing Sky Blue Sky, but more importantly, I revisited Being There while in Australia, and suddenly discovered that all of a sudden, it may have actually become my favorite Wilco album.

I think the trouble the first time around was that my discovery of Summerteeth placed certain unrealistic expectations on the album, as well as biases on what Wilco were ‘supposed to sound like’. The songwriting on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was too weak, and despite its strong points A Ghost is Born had a tendency to wander, and so the focused and concise pop of Summerteeth totally blew me away when I first got to it. For some reason then, I expected Being There to be much of the same, and my initial listens to the standard ‘hits’ off the record (i.e. Say You Miss Me, Far Far Away, etc) only confirmed this.

And of course, I got something really different. Stuff like Outtasite (Outta Mind) was reminiscent of the driving pop of Summerteeth, only far less developed, and that was disappointing. Meanwhile, the rest of the record wasn’t concise power pop, and so it got ignored. Which is tragic, really.

Nearly every song oozes of a confidence that was lacking in parts of AM, and they use that newfound confidence to explore a wide palette of sounds and styles, nearly every one of which works fantastically. Traditionally, I like to critique albums based on their overall cohesiveness and consistency rather than on the basis of individual songs, but when discussing Being There, you absolutely cannot help but talk about the qualities of each and every song, just because of the sheer diversity that’s present, and in the end all you’re left with is one of the greatest slices of Americana produced in the 90’s.

  1. Misunderstood – The whole ‘NOTHING! NOTHING!’ section is what everyone digs into, and maybe the rest of the song is weaker by comparison. But it’s a great, great peak, and I dig the tortured guitars at the end, really compliments the screaming quite well. You can’t knock on this one.
  2. Far, Far Away – Heartbreakingly beautiful. The quiet harmonica lines that hide behind the guitars…gorgeous. Perfect song.
  3. Monday – This is definitely the most Uncle Tupelo that Tweedy would go on this record, and it frickin rocks. The brass is such a perfect production touch, and really this whole record is immaculately produced.
  4. Outtasite (Outta Mind) – was a favorite on first listen, probably because of the massive riff and the catchy hooks in the verse, but I like this song less and less every time I listen to it. It still sounds like an something that they could of tossed off onto tape in about 10 minutes later on during the Summerteeth sessions.
  5. Forget the Flowers – Just a little too simple for me, but it’s a clever melody.
  6. Red-eyed and Blue – It’s all about the underwater reverb-drenched piano, this is the most atmospheric that Wilco would get until A Ghost is Born, even. Very good song.
  7. I Got You (At the End of the Century) – Mindless fun, but man it is so marvelous. Listen to those vocal harmonies! You absolutely can’t help but smile when you hear this song.
  8. What’s the World Got in Store – In my opinion, this is the underappreciated gem of Being There. From a simple introduction, the song builds and builds, with more instruments entering the mix, and finally we hit that final chorus. The vocal harmonies are even more crucial here, and the last thirty seconds or so are possibly the most sublime moment on the album for me.
  9. Hotel Arizona – Wilco has never done anything like this, but I think it’s one of their best songs. A really intriguing and mysterious melody suddenly gets burst open by sunny and catchy falsetto backups, yet by the end of the song all that optimism collapses and we get the most of Tweedy’s angst and distortion until we hit At Least That’s What You Said eight years later.
  10. Say You Miss Me – Typical and predictable pop structure, but this is another perfect song.
  11. Sunken Treasure – If you sit down and analyze each part of this song, it seems wholly unremarkable, but taken as a whole, I think the consensus is that this is one of, if not the best song on the album. The delivery of the chorus (I am so out of tune…with you…) is pretty heartbreaking.
  12. Someday Soon – Similar to Forget the Flowers, it’s just a simple clever melody, but the song itself isn’t great shakes.
  13. Outta Mind (Outta Sight) – I like this version more than the rock Outtasite on disc 1; I think it’s the really nifty swing rhythms that come up unexpectedly.
  14. Someone Else’s Song – Not all that interesting to me personally, and where the album begins to drop off.
  15. Kingpin – A live fan favorite that doesn’t work as well on record.
  16. (Was I) In Your Dreams – Charming country/honky-tonk number that doesn’t do much for me.
  17. Why Would You Wanna Live – My least favorite song on here. The intentional pairing of the sunny harmonies with the bleak lyrics just doesn’t sit well.
  18. The Lonely 1 – The lone bright spot in the final half of Disc 2. The lyrics are silly, but seriously, who cares? A nice, peaceful, beautiful way to bring Being There to a close.
  19. Dreamer in My Dreams – A shambling and drunken romp, kinda fun, but definitely a throwaway.

Though Wilco would explore their pop leanings next on Summerteeth, I never realized how much this album could also foretell the angst and the atmospherics of A Ghost is Born, while also reaching back for the alt-country of AM and Uncle Tupelo. In that sense then, it’s almost the Quintessential Wilco album, neatly summarizing all of the band’s directions, save for perhaps the shortwave radio and blasts of noise on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or the sheer boringness of the unfortunate Sky Blue Sky. Both of those, though, are minor points, and that’s why it’s become apparent to me that Being There actually represents Wilco with their most archetypical sound, simultaneously diverse interests, and ultimately, their most quality songwriting.

Score: 10.7/12