The record starts brightly with “Can’t Stand It,” music basking in a pure pop solar glow while Jeff Tweedy sounds like he’s about to flame out: “You know it’s all beginning/To feel like it’s ending,” he sings, convinced that he feels fine. You start to wonder about that even keel, though, as the words on Summerteeth get sadder and the pop tunes reveal a new, and desperate, patina. Gram Parsons and cowpunk were no longer Wilco’s avatars; Ric Ocasek, Jeff Lynne, and Brian Wilson loom large here. The twang is gone. Meanwhile, a lot of other stuff was going on with the band. Tweedy had become a father and his marriage was falling apart and he was writing candidly about it, as in “She’s a Jar,” where he finishes with a tossed-off “she begs me not to hit her” that leaves the listener wondering. Painkillers and antidepressants were in the studio with Tweedy and bandmate Jay Bennett, maybe more than was the rest of the group, who are downplayed in favor of Pro Tools and synthesizers. Here is the creative core of Wilco, breaking down and finding itself in the process.
On 1996’s Being There, Tweedy had showed new skills as a melodist and arranger; here, he comes through as a first-rate lyricist, too, writing evasively yet revealingly. There’s a lot of late-night confessing, notes left on the bathroom mirror, and drunken rambles—and the more his words go on, the less you trust them. That's the point: He’s lurching toward something, not arriving, and he may be fooling you, himself, or both. “Oh I’m a bomb regardless,” he repeats in “Nothing’severgonnstandinmyway (Again).” And by the end of Summerteeth, what crawls from the rubble is a new kind of artist.