Saturday, March 12, 2005

Review: Wilco, A Ghost Is Born

I've been following the band since 1995's A.M., and have to date felt each album to show substantial development from its predecessor. Unfortunately, this one sort of breaks the mold. Jeff Tweedy is still innovating and stretching himself, refusing to rest on his laurels, but the bottom line is that Ghost is just kinda dull. Now, don't quote me on that. When 1999's Summer Teeth first came out, I thought it was listless, lightweight pop; six months later, it was my favorite Wilco album, and one of my favorite albums of the nineties. Its much-hyped follow-up, 2002's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, drew non-stop raves (in part due to the saga of the band being dropped by the label because of the disc's lack of commercial potential, documented on the fine I Am Trying To Break Your Heart film), but I initially found it underwhelming. Again, repeated listens had the album really growing on me, and today I'm among the converted (though I still find it a bit overrated).

So who knows, maybe next year I'll be a bigger fan of Ghost. For now, though, I just don't love the damn thing. Too few hooks, too many songs that get drawn out without going anywhere. (I felt the same way about mucy of Yankee Hotel, but at least the sonic experiments kept it interesting.) Sure, there are some decent songs, if you take the time to delve in and relax -- the catchy "Handshake Drugs," the droning "Spiders (Kidsmoke)." But for the most part, Tweedy seems to have abandoned the pop gift he demonstrated on Summer Teeth (and Yankee Hotel tunes like "I'm The Man Who Loves You" and "Heavy Metal Drummer"). "The Late Greats" comes close, even if it's a bit slight. "I'm a Wheel" pulls out the stops as an upbeat rocker more reminiscent of Wilco's earlier days, but the song ends up sounding like a trying-too-hard Replacements cover. Wilco remains one of the few truly great bands still kicking around, and it's by no means a bad album, but when I'm reaching for a Wilco album to listen to, this one's pretty far down the list. At least right now.

Here are some samples at


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