Wilco takes step back with Ghost

Adam Lichty

Adam Lichty

Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy is like the loner you’d meet at a party, sitting alone in the corner with a guitar and his own six-pack. He may not be very attractive or even that fun, but one could at least expect a modest, thought-provoking conversation. That’s how Tweedy delivers his songs in Wilco’s new album this year, A Ghost Is Born.

The Chicago-based alt-rock band’s 2002 release, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, was lauded by virtually every critic and became their best-selling album to date. The album instantly became an American classic with its neo-folk songs of heartbreak, alcoholism, youth nostalgia, regret and hope enveloped by some strange yet surprisingly charming sonic textures. However, their fifth and latest album is like nothing that which has preceded it.

As the title suggests, A Ghost Is Born is a struggle between musical identity and uncertainty. In “Handshake Drugs,” the centerpiece of Ghost, lead singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy asks, “…exactly what do you want me to be?”

Throughout the record Wilco searches for this identity with various styles, whether it be the sweet, piano-driven, Beatles-esque ballad “Hummingbird,” the boisterous punk of “I’m a Wheel,” or a return to their original alt-country roots in “The Late Greats.”

In Yankee, songs are built on a dense, surreal arrangement of textures, tape loops and synths that are equally intriguing, melodic, and engaging. On Ghost, while these unusual layers of artificial sound are still present, they are a stripped down palette of guitars, bass, drums and piano. The result is a sound that explores every musical horizon as simply as possible and sometimes comes up short.

Simply said, Wilco has taken a small step back with Ghost, and listeners may become confused and frustrated with the overall feel of the album.

Some of the tracks, like “Less Than You Think” and “Spiders,” sound like incomplete and overwrought fragments. However, many of the band’s endearing themes from previous albums resurface in Ghost.

Plus, it helps that Tweedy is so damn irresistible. With his endearing, light, rusty Midwest tenor, Tweedy expresses an interesting understatement in light of a fractured relationship on “At Least That’s What You Said” – “I thought it was cute for you kiss my purple-black eye/even though I caught it from you.”

A Ghost Is Born couldn’t have any hit songs if it tried, and it may take a number of listens to fully digest its musical and emotional complexities. Yet, it is comforting to know that a band like Wilco is trying to expand its artistic horizons instead of cashing in on the unfulfilling world of mainstream monotony. 3 stars out of 5

#1.885857:1468856849.jpg:tweedy.jpg:Jeff Tweedy: