By Clark Collis
Updated June 17, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT

Jeff Tweedy’s decision to give Wilco’s new album the most? prosaic moniker in rock history initially seemed like evidence of his dry wit. Listening to the band’s seventh studio collection, you have to wonder if that choice isn’t also a subconscious admission that his ideas cupboard is temporarily bare.

”Wilco will love you, baby,” Tweedy sings on the opening midtempo rocker, ”Wilco (the song).” But fans of the band are more? accustomed to being challenged than adored. Wilco have long used new albums to push themselves, experimenting with dissonant sound collages on 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, seeking inspiration from Krautrock on 2004’s A Ghost Is Born, and exploring a mellower vibe on 2007’s Sky Blue Sky. While each of those albums represented a change of gear, Wilco (The Album) mostly idles in neutral. Guitar wizard Nels Cline is allowed space to decorate hushed efforts such as ”One Wing” and ”Everlasting Everything” with some ?angular trills. Unfortunately, he is rarely given room to really let loose. It’s like using a computer as an ambient desk lamp. Guest vocalist Feist is similarly underused in what is essentially a backing-singer role on the? unmemorable ”You and I.” Only the ominous ”Bull Black Nova” — which features some terrific shredding by Cline — hints that this is a band that has made a point of confounding expectations.

Tweedy’s ability to craft great hooks does make this worth a listen, and maybe the band simply needs a pause to catch its creative breath. Let’s just hope the next one isn’t called Wilco (another album). B

Download This: Listen to the song Bull Black Nova at