A Ghost Is Born
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was essentially a conventional Wilco album with some sound effects and production tricks; A Ghost Is Born is more extreme, spiralling off into lengthy guitar jams and an even lengthier drone. With most of the original Wilco members gone, there’s almost a completely new band here; Tweedy and Stirratt are joined by O’Rourke, drummer Glenn Kotche, and keyboardists Leroy Bach and Mikael Jorgensen, giving the band even more of a synthetic feel.
There are obvious flaws on this record, and it’s far more uneven than the tightly constructed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but most of the difficult spots are due to Tweedy’s perversity rather than any lack of creativity; most notably ‘Less Than You Think’, which is basically three minutes of gentle song followed by twelve minutes of droning, used by Tweedy to represent his constant migraines.
Despite these flaws, it’s still Wilco’s most interesting and creative effort. I can listen to ‘Company In My Back’ obsessively and still hear something new each time; the piercing bass lines, the way Tweedy’s voice reaches the high notes on “I will always die/I will always die, so you can remember me,” the staccato jabs that leads into each chorus, and the shower of notes that kicks in after each chorus. To balance out the obsessive studio craft, some of the songs also tend towards lengthy Neil Young-like guitar jams, with Tweedy showcasing his much improved guitar skills on the 10 minute ‘Spiders (Kidsmoke)’ and ‘At Least That’s What You Said’. The defining characteristic of this album is ambiguity, and the appeal of these songs is their cryptic nature.
Apart from the conclusion to ‘Less Than You Think’, the abrasive ‘I’m A Wheel’ is the other problematic track. But the other ten songs are terrific; the understated ‘Muzzle Of Bees’ ghosts by on a wispy guitar riff, the oblique ‘Hell Is Chrome’ utilises Tweedy’s gorgeous falsetto, the opening ‘At Least That’s What You Said’ builds from reflective piano to chaotic guitar soloing from Tweedy, while ‘Spiders (Kidsmoke)’ locks into an intense guitar riff. ‘The Late Greats’ is a surprising coda to the album, a straightforward and nostalgic statement of rock fandom (“The best songs will never get sung/The best life never leaves your lungs”).
A Ghost Is Born isn’t as tightly constructed as Wilco’s strongest albums, but it still ranks as their most fascinating effort to date, and it’s the one I feel like pulling off the shelf the most often.