Wilco – A Ghost is Born (Nonesuch, 2004)
Wilco leaped into the public consciousness with the trials and tribulations over their previous album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. There was much drama and intrigue with this record as well, as Jeff Tweedy went through various emotional and substance problems related to the making of the new album. The music is still experimental, but the electronics and synths are toned down in favor of guitar based feedback explorations. Several tracks on the album have snarling guitar solos either embedded in them or placed at the end. "At Least That's What You Said" and "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" rock out harder then the band has in a while – while the experimental electronic structures of Yankee were interesting, I always had the feeling that they were also being restrained by them. "Less Than You Think" actually takes this idea a step too far by tacking on a 12 minute feedback experiment to the end of the track.
It's great that the band is still experimenting and looking for new directions, but this might be a bit much. Perhaps that's why Tweedy recruited experimental jazz guitarist Nels Cline to play with the band - an experienced improviser who can mold the bands free form ambitions into something recognizable instead of the more schizophrenic aspects of this record where that bands ingrained pop sensibility comes up against their urge to strike out for new terrain. And make no mistake, the pop music that has always been at the core of their music is still evident here in tunes like the bizarre "Hell is Chrome" and the album ending "The Late Greats." It's an good disc, more interesting than the overrated YHF but still leaving territory to be explored in future albums if the band can hang together.
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