Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot has quite a chequered back story – it was initially rejected by Wilco’s record label, Reprise, who deemed it too non-commercial. It was eventually released on Nonesuch records, who like Reprise are a Time Warner subsidiary, meaning that in effect Time Warner paid for the album twice. If that’s not complicated enough, the band was self-destructing at the same time, with tensions caught in the movie I Am Trying To Break Your Heart leading to the departure of Jay Bennett and Ken Coomer from the band. The ego clashes between Bennett and Tweedy were particularly significant, with Bennett assuming an ever larger role, taking co-writing credits on eight of the eleven songs and leading the band further into electronic territory. Producer Jim O’Rourke, despite his avant-garde pedigree as a member of Sonic Youth and solo artist, actually ended up toning down the record’s more experimental moments.
Wilco at their most experimental are hardly difficult listening, and if anything Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is more accessible than their previous two records – shorter than Being There and more coherent than Summerteeth – it just has a few more beeping noises than those records did. Despite the band’s less organic approach, their strengths remain the same; Tweedy’s neuroses and pretty melodies are more effective in these brooding soundscapes than in the poppy sheen of Summerteeth.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot starts with the wavering ‘I Am Trying To Break Your Heart’, with the cryptic opening line “I am an American aquarium drinker”, leading shakily through one finger keyboard solos and collapsing under a wall of static. Meanwhile the catchiest material is pushed to the third quarter of the album, with the bouncy ‘Heavy Metal Drummer’ and ‘I’m The Man Who Loves You’, which feels like a late sixties Beatles track, down to the guitar tone and primitive riff. Honours for best song on a terrific album go to ‘Poor Places’, which suddenly loses its building tensions as it opens out into the record’s most memorable lines (“And it makes no difference to me/How they cried all over overseas”). Some vestiges of country remain with ‘Jesus, etc’, where a country fiddle provides the texture.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is perfectly sequenced, and enhanced by its creative effects and production; even the uneventful four minute wind down on ‘Reservations’ is important to the shape of the album. The crown jewel in Wilco’s impressive back-catalogue, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot thoroughly deserves its status as one of the strongest albums to emerge in the 21st century.