In his Consumer Guide review for Wilco’s 1996 album Being There, critic Robert Christgau asked rhetorically, “Is a two-CD package that could fit onto one conning consumers, taking on airs, or wallowing in nostalgia for a lost time when songs were songs and double albums were double albums?” His conclusion: “All three.”

Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy’s new album Together at Last takes up only one disc, speckled with barebones versions of Wilco’s most mainstay sing-alongs (“Ashes of American Flags,” “Via Chicago,” etc.) and a pair of non-Wilco cuts (“Laminated Cat” and “Lost Love“), but it’s still tempting to call it a con job or hustle. After all, who would want a collection of solo-acoustic re-recordings other than the most devoted Tweedy fans? And why would those fans want it when they probably have the full band versions already?

Of course, plenty of artists have stripped down their older songs and come up with solid albums — Randy Newman, Glen Campbell and Johnny Cash come to mind. Tweedy clearly wants to join that company with Together at Last. The album’s press release stresses the intimate feel of these recordings: “And while we know most of you have never been to the loft (aka The Loft), trust us when we say, this is the next best thing to being there.”

But here’s the catch with the stripped-down solo gambit: The less accompaniment you have, the more burden it places on your words. And Together at Last reveals how much Tweedy’s lyrics need all of Wilco’s famed soundscaping.

For example, these lines from “I am trying to break your heart” just sound like doggerel without the steady drums and gently dissonant noises of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot:

I am Trying to Break Your Heart

Too often, Tweedy seems to treat words as just one more sound effect. He says “TV square” instead of “TV set” on “Laminated Cat” because he needs a rhyme for “chair” and “stare.” “Ashes of American Flags” has some good lines — “I wonder why we listen to poets when nobody gives a fuck,” “All my lies are always wishes” — but why or how does the cash machine in the first verse “beg for luck?” (Hint: that line comes right after the one about listening to poets.)

Later in “Ashes…,” Tweedy sings, “I shake like a toothache/Every time I hear myself sing.” That’s understandable enough — a welcome bit of self-effacement too — but how exactly does a toothache shake? And try parsing this quatrain:

Ashes of American Flags

Stuff like this calls to mind the Band‘s song “Chest Fever,” where they just made up the words as they recorded the music. Judging from this album’s 11 tracks, Tweedy has made a career out of doing something similar.

He may be aiming for Johnny Cash or Randy Newman, but on Together at Last, Tweedy comes off like a folk-rock Algernon Swinburne: Too much sound, not enough sense.