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Old 02-08-2009, 01:01 PM   #17 (permalink)
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A Ghost Is Born [Nonesuch; 2004]

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was the black sheep of Wilco’s discography. There’s a clear thematic progression from A.M to Summerteeth; that is, you feel Tweedy grow as his song writing matures. Yankee Hotel stands still, doesn’t feel like a growth in lyrics as much as it does in music. And then came A Ghost Is Born, probably Wilco’s most depressing album and Tweedy’s most frightening incarnation. One of the first things you’ll notice about the album is that two of the songs, the second and penultimate songs, are both over 10 minutes long. Wilco have never composed a song that long, and for it to happen more than once is, if not interesting, then a bit worrisome. The fact becomes more affecting when the first song, At Least That’s What You Said starts playing. The song starts off very quiet, so quiet in fact that you can barely hear Tweedy, who sounds like he’s giving up on singing altogether. Will the two 10 minute songs be as dull as this? You think, until the song picks up with a long garage jam that would have never found a place in Yankee Hotel’s eccentric production, Summerteeth’s psychedelia, and A.M’s perfect alt-country. It would have made sense in Being There, but even then it would have been a stretch. As soon as At Least That’s What You Said picks up, you know that A Ghost Is Born is, once again, nothing like what came before. Wilco are good at doing that.

A Ghost Is Born does something exceptionally interesting and, ultimately (if you have the patience) rewarding: It is the sequel to all Wilco releases thus far. It is the culmination of every idea and every character that had been created by that point. In A Ghost Is Born, Tweedy marries the overwhelming flaws he’s been hinting at up to that point with the violence and malevolence he’d been brewing since Summerteeth, but also with the good guy he’d been subtly adopting since his early days. His flaws are best exemplified in At Least That’s What You Said, where Tweedy comes to love the relationship he’s part of despite the black eye he sports from his love, as if the girl from She’s A Jar (from Summerteeth) finally hit back; In Handshake Drugs, where in the end he surrenders to his significant other, telling her that all he wants to be is what she wants him to be, so “exactly what do you want me to be?” And in Wishful Thinking, where he thanks his lucky stars that “you’re not me.” His flaws also seem to feed his evil, exemplified in Hell Is Chrome where Hell is, to him, a place where he belongs, a paradise better than Earth, and where the devil doesn’t force him to do anything, instead asking him to “come with me.” Strangely, Tweedy also sings about things that kind of make him the good guy, as in Hummgbird and Wishful Thinking, but don’t let those two songs convince you of anything, for Tweedy is once again a bastard in Less Than You Think. As for the similarities to Yankee Hotel, Jim O’Rourke returns to produce this one as well, but the album doesn’t sound like Yankee Hotel. There’s no static (except for the last 10 minutes of Less Than You Think) and no Heavy Metal Drummers, but perhaps that’s best.

A Ghost Is Born is more cohesive, and makes more sense than anything that came before. It really draws an atmosphere, making you feel like you’re trapped inside the egg on the album’s cover, a prison from which you escape only to find nothing of value outside of it. It will take a lot of patience to get through this album if you’re expecting the sequel to Yankee Hotel or even the spirit of Summerteeth, but you may find it well worth it. They band has never really written anything as affecting, or as haunting. Don’t be surprised if it becomes your favourite of all of them.
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