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VCV: Wilco – “Impossible Germany”

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I do like playing detective when I listen to music. Most of the time my sleuthing involves thinking of the lyrics as clues and trying to assemble them into something logical or meaningful. Yet there are times when the words just get in the way.

“Impossible Germany, Unlikely Japan” might make sense inside the mind of Jeff Tweedy. They might point to something specific and tangible. They're just words to me. The countries were on the wrong side of history in World War II. Beyond that, I don't have a thread to connect them and the adjectives “impossible” and “unlikely” do little to help me. Maybe I'm just a shitty detective.

So what do you do when a case stumps you? Do you skip the song? Ignore it? Dismiss it? Not if it's “Impossible Germany.” I don't know what he's on about but the vocal melody and delivery tell me volumes. And what I can tell you is that tonight as I type these words I feel exactly the way Jeff Tweedy sounds to me right now.

That vocal melody feels melancholy without feeling hopeless, resigned without being defeated, adrift without being lost. Not bad for a detective who doesn't know what an impossible Germany or an unlikely Japan are.

Tonight, my mind is more attuned to the vocal and melody. That wouldn't be the case most times when I listen to this song. There's another story being told altogether through Wilco's multi-guitar attack. Guitarist Nels Cline is telling his own story in this song. He practices some long-form melody, emphasizing his jazz background, and then fires off rapid bursts and squalls of sound. Meanwhile twin guitars are interlocking to recreate the sounds of classic Duane Allman/Dickey Betts. These different parts compete and compliment one another and then merge as the song glides in for a soft landing.

Sky Blue Sky is among my favorite Wilco records and “Impossible Germany” is a major reason why it is.

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About Josh Hathaway

  • Glen Boyd

    Couldn’t agree more.

  • Mat Brewster

    I don’t understand what Tweedy is carrying on about half the time, but man do I love the way he does it.

  • Josh Hathaway

    What’s interesting is he’s a lot less opaque and cryptic on much of Sky Blue Sky and that’s part of why I love the record so much. It feels overall much more accessible. The irony is arguably the least accessible song is also my favorite. I’m a paradox.

    Thanks, boys.

  • kurt

    i found your site because i was in the exact same mood thinking the exact same things. i have no idea. but i love it.

  • dylan

    agreed with all you guys 100%…great article, Josh.

  • Ben

    It’s a wonderful song

  • Marc Miller

    I totally agree. It is the best thing about the entire album. Do you know what kind of guitar Nels Cline is playing on that song? Is it a Fender Jaguar?