Uncle Tupelo – Anodyne

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

There are four Uncle Tupelo studio albums. The third, produced by Peter Buck, is March 16-20, 1992, which is half covers of folk songs and all acoustic. People go crazy over it – it sold more than No Depression and Still Feel Gone combined – but I couldn’t stand it. Factoring my dislike of the debut, this means that I don’t care for the extremes – punky or folky – of Uncle Tupelo. Give me the second and fourth albums, or give me death.

What I Think of This Album

As with all last-albums-before-the-breakup, the temptation is to view the work through the lens of the dissolution. Here, that urge is augmented by the fact that the newly-expanded backing band – drummer Ken Coomer, bassist John Stirrat, and multi-instrumentalist Max Johnston – all stuck with Tweedy and became Wilco.

The songwriting split does appear to be more stark than ever, with Tweedy’s five songs featuring livelier tempos and more pop melodies, and Farrar leveraging his voice and poetry on his more somber six tracks. Overall, though, this is the album that most closely ties the band to their country-rock predecessors of the ‘60s. The somewhat surprising meld of punk and country (not that Jason and the Scorchers and Green on Red hadn’t already done that) turned out to be not so odd after all, as it evolved into a more modern version of what the Byrds had done.

Each songwriter hits some highs on this fine album. “Chickamauga” is a rousing rocker from Farrar, with a Neil Young guitar part, and lyrics about a breakup (hmmmm). Tweedy counters with the excellent journey-as-metaphor “The Long Cut;” the rustic, enigmatic, seismically-themed “New Madrid”  (with a superior banjo played by Johnston); and the impassioned duality of “We’ve Been Had,” in which he beats the Jesus and Mary Chain to the “I Hate Rock ‘n’ Roll” / “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” punch. No such ambivalence taints the celebratory “Acuff-Rose,” which, despite being a fun little number, is also sort of lightweight.

Meanwhile, Farrar’s “Slate” will have people wondering again if Tweedy and Tupelo are the objects, and the weariness and defeat of “Fifteen Keys” will also raise some eyebrows. The future Wilco sound is fully present on “No Sense In Lovin’.” The cover of Doug Sahm’s “Give Back the Key to My Heart” is sung by Sahm himself, in a pleasantly amber voice, and this excellent song also serves to further tie Uncle Tupelo to its musical heritage.

Max Johnston is the younger sibling of Michelle Shocked. Uncle Tupelo opened for Michelle Shocked, whom Johnston was supporting. The tour ended badly but Johnston forged a relationship with Tupelo and ended up in the band. Dixie Chicks patriarch Lloyd Maines plays pedal steel on the album.

The Best Thing About This Album

“The Long Cut,” for its sweetness and hope.

Release Date

October, 1993

The Cover Art

Love the color, and the ribbon extending from the left. The photo itself is a bit messy. Fewer guitars would have worked better.

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