WILCO : : A GHOST IS BORN (Nonesuch)

We all grow up and our tastes change, shift and adapt as we do. Jeff Tweedy, songwriter, leader, front man and more for Wilco, has clearly grown; he's off drugs, he's got a new line-up and an ever-shifting sound. The band's 2004 Nonesuch release, A Ghost Is Born comes on the heels of the wildly successful, and flat-out amazing Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and because of this Ghost could be viewed as a let down. But that is simply not the case. Songs like the ten-minute psychedelic "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" and the infectious "Handshake Drugs," are strong enough to make up for whatever short comings one may find. Somehow similar to the organism living in the egg on the album's cover art, A Ghost Is Born slowly develops. As it grows on the listener, unraveling its ambitious beauty instead of coming right out and overwhelming the ears, the glory of Ghost burns slow and builds from the ground up. Whether Wilco and Tweedy meant to or not, they have created one of those albums that truly get better with each spin.

The mood of the album changes dramatically from the sentimental opener/Neil Young and Crazy Horse guitar romp of "At Least That's What You Said" to the 15-minute drone exercise of "Less Than You Think" (which usually requires a fast forward) to the catchy pop potential of the up beat closer "The Late Greats." Some see this as a marvelous display of ability and depth, others as lacking direction. For me it's a little bit of both. I think we could keep the esoteric sound experiments to the live experience and focus more on the potent song writing and vocal delivery Tweedy has built his kingdom on. That being said, the bite of his guitar plays well in various segments, and the development of Wilco clearly shows them moving to more guitar madness and wide-open freakouts with the addition of Nels Cline to the touring unit.

"Muzzle Of Bees" does a wonderful job of mixing Tweedy's fragile, real-to-the-bone voice with a buzzing, white-noise guitar backdrop while a well placed acoustic guitar strings the five-minute track together. Where "Muzzle Of Bees" balances words with instrumentation, "Hummingbird" focuses on the band's Beatles-esque song writing sensibility. Add in the spacey soundscape's and introspective lyrics of "Wishful Thinking" and the overly-simplistic, two-minute straight ahead rocker "I'm A Wheel" and we find a good album from a great band that hinges on whether or not you will decide to embrace the stylistic shifts or reject such excursions in exchange for a catalogue of equally well crafted (and very different) albums by Wilco. Either way, Wilco remains one of the most important band's in music, and it appears one can expect further greatness in whatever form they choose as they continue to move forward with a healthy leader and what very well may be the most musically gifted line-up yet.

JamBase | San Francisco
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[Published on: 11/23/04]

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