Grasping for greatness
John Carswell | Franklin, TN | 07/30/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
A Ghost Is Born
2004; Nonesuch Records
My Rating: 6/10
To me, the trajectory of Wilco's recording career shares a strange correlation with Radiohead's. That continues with their fifth album, A GHOST IS BORN. If YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT was WILCO's KID A, then yes, this is WILCO's AMNESIAC. It's not just that GHOST's experimentalism seems a bit tried after the resounding avant masterpiece YHF - it's that, at this point, the band seems to be grasping for great ideas rather than letting the joy of making music lead to inspiration.
That being said, I do want to say that A GHOST IS BORN contains some startlingly great songs. "Muzzle of Bees," "Company in My Back," "The Late Greats" - all of these have become live staples for Wilco and for good reason. They are fantastic songs. Similarly, "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" is an adventurous kraut-rock experiment that just rules. It's one of my favorite Wilco tracks, even at close to eleven minutes. However, there are an equal number of disappointments. "At Least That's What You Said" is the worst opener in Wilco's catalog, and "Hell Is Chrome" just drags a little too much. And "Handshake Drugs", though certainly a highlight in Wilco's catalogue, is a little too cleaned up here compared to the earlier, superior version on the MORE LIKE THE MOON EP.
Additionally, A GHOST IS BORN contains what is probably the low point in Wilco's career, the 2-minute song plus 11 minutes of white noise, the inexplicable no matter how hard you try to spin it as art, "Less Than You Think." The song itself doesn't even warrant inclusion, and its only redeeming quality may be that it allowed Tweedy to get a few records full of completely obtuse avant-garde nonsense out of his system. But that's as harsh as I'm going to be on Wilco, band that I love. Regardless of what you could say about this, it is still a WILCO record, and that fact alone makes it enjoyable.
A GHOST IS BORN represents WILCO's attempt to top itself once again. Given that, it's daunting to best a masterpiece. Five albums into a stellar career, it became apparent that they were trying a little too hard to reinvent themselves this time around. Being a WILCO record it contains several great songs, but overall GHOST comes off sounding like the band's mid-life crisis. Thank God they managed to come out of it alive, for there were brighter horizons awaiting the band.
I recommend A GHOST IS BORN only for WILCO die-hards and completists. Many of GHOST's tracks can be found in superior form on the live record KICKING TELEVISION.
1. At Least That's What You Said (3/5)
2. Hell Is Chrome (2.5/5)
3. Spiders (Kidsmoke) (5/5)
4. Muzzle of Bees (5/5)
5. Hummingbird (4/5)
6. Handshake Drugs (3.5/5)
7. Company in My Back (4/5)
8. Wishful Thinking (4/5)
9. I'm a Wheel (2/5)
10. Theologians (2.5/5)
11. Less Than You Think (1/5)
12. The Late Greats (4/5)"
My favorite Wilco album
Curmudgeon | central Colorado | 11/06/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've been listening to Wilco for about 5 years, starting out with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which made me rethink the state of American music. At age 60, I had thought nothing came up to the standards of 1960s-70s rock and roll. YHF made me start listening again, and that has led to what are, for me, some amazing discoveries (and it has reduced my opinion of some of the music of my youth).
I bought A Ghost is Born as soon as it was released, and, at first, I was disappointed. My wife hated the noise, and I didn't like it much either. But, after 4 years, the album keeps getting better for me. Just when I get into the musicality of some of the "easier" songs (whose standards are still higher than those of 95% of the stuff you hear), something ominous-sounding creeps in and changes my mood. There's nothing pretentious or arty about this album. It's take-it-or-leave-it creative. YHF is still my second-favorite Wilco album, but the two are quite different animals.
Wilco is the best band I've heard in many years. If you already like them, get in your car and go to a live concert. They'll blow you away. They are not only amazing performers, but they're the most generous band I've heard live. They play on and on, and the feedback between the band and the audience is amazing."