Maybe it’s because I’m from Chicago, but it feels like Wilco has always been around. Safely secreted away in their studio loft on the north side, consistently producing great music, it feels like, for generations. 

Now, there are those people out there who are major Wilco fans, and I don’t think I would put myself securely in that camp, but I have always appreciated their sincerity, their skill, and the way they are always trying new things while staying true who they are as musicians and as a band.

“Impossible Germany” is the best song off Sky Blue Sky, their sixth album. It’s interesting to look at how Wilco developed as a group over those previous five albums, with “Impossible Germany” as a culmination point. Led by guitarist and lead vocalist and songwriter Jeff Tweedy, Wilco began as an offshoot of alternative country band Uncle Tupelo, and did straight forward rock music, tinged with a hint of country twang and sentiment. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, released in 2001 was their biggest selling album and featured experimental, dissonant songs. The album was such a stylistic departure from their pedigree that they were dismissed from their contract by their record label and initially released the album themselves before it was purchased by Nonesuch Records. It sold over a half million copies and was nominated for several Grammy awards.

Sky Blue Sky was released in 2007, and marked a return to a more traditional sound, featuring songs that were airy, open and approachable. “What Light” is a Wilco song that easily could have been a Coca-Cola commercial. “Please be Patient with Me” is exactly the “don’t kick me out quite yet” love song you think it would be. The third song, “Impossible Germany” is something else. 

On it’s face, you might think this is a love song. Many people do think it is a love song. It probably is. The lyrics speak of being with one another. Missing one another. Being committed to one another.

“This is what love is for
To be out of place
Gorgeous and alone
Face to face”

The song begins with three electric guitars, somehow all sounding quiet, comfortably nestled amongst one another like sleeping babies. Soft melody lines, gently supporting one another. Thoughtful words carefully laced throughout. “Impossible Germany” may be a love song, but every time I’ve listened to it, I connect with a sense of the demands of travel, and maybe even what it is like to be a band on the road. Almost as if Tweedy is musing to himself, wondering where he might be at any given time.

“Impossible Germany
Unlikely Japan
Wherever you go
Wherever you land”

He tells the audience, “I know you’re not listening.”

“Fundamental problem
All need to face
This is important
But I know, you’re not listening
No, I know, you’re not listening

This was still new to me
I wouldn’t understand
Impossible Germany
Unlikely Japan
This is what love is for
To be out of place
Gorgeous and alone
Face to face”

I think Tweedy sees himself as alone on the stage, feeling out of place, yet with a spotlight shining brightly upon him as he tries, sometimes in vain, to connect with the audience. He loves what he does, the loves the music he makes, but how is it that a poor kid from the middle of the country suddenly finds himself on stage in places like Germany? Like Japan? It’s impossible.

Then, the guitar starts. At exactly 2:45 into the song, guitarist Nels Cline strikes a single, sweet note. The drums and bass are keeping the rhythm. Above the quiet, consistent music Cline softly twirls and tumbles. Tweedy and Pat Sansone on rhythm guitars arpeggiate independently of each other as Cline’s solo grows a little louder, becomes a little more purposeful.The twirls become flourishes. The tumbles become colorful illustrations. Cline finds a melody, which he builds upon and repeats. At 4:09 Tweedy and Sansone fall into a harmonic duet, playing sharp, lovely triplets behind Cline’s tumbling and twirling. Now the band is a single unit. The volume goes up. The intensity builds. Cline is shredding, and the once quiet song is now a dissonant, lovely wall of sound. And then the drums and bass go away. Cline stops playing, and all we here are the sweet sounds of Tweedy and Sansone playing the same melody that begins the song. Quiet. Lovely.

There are no more lyrics to be sung, there is nothing more to be said. The song ends. Impossible. Perfect.

“Impossible Germany”
Written by Jeff Tweedy, Glenn Kotche, John Stirratt, Mikael Jorgenson and Pat Sansone
Performed by Wilco
Released May 15, 2007


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