I lost track of Wilco after 2002’s excellent Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. That album, with its eerily prescient 9/11 echoes (it was recorded before September 11, but released afterward), is compelling and emotional in ways I usually associate more with film than music.
Its follow-up, 2004’s A Ghost is Born, had all of the sonic experimentation but none of the soul. It sounded like the band trying to repeat itself.
Music about music is pretty hit or miss. While many artists have had success writing about their experiences as professional musicians, just as many have come across as whiny and annoying.
Wilco made the bold move of writing an entire album — a double album, no less — about music with 1996’s Being There.
Frontman Jeff Tweedy wanted to write songs about his experiences both playing and listening to music and, despite the obvious dangers inherent in taking such a path, wound up crafting a superior album.
I don’t know if any band in my collection has had as extreme a swing in my estimation as Wilco. Once upon a time they were firing on all cylinders to such a degree that I numbered them among my very favorite bands. But that lasted for three albums. Now, three more albums later, I’m largely indifferent about them. I’ve been tempted a couple of times to check out their latest release, Wilco (the Album), but never enough to do anything about it.
I imagine this is what it’s like when you fall out of love with a woman. She goes from inhabiting your every thought to not stirring any emotion in you whatsoever. As Fiona Apple puts it in her beautiful song ‘Love Ridden’: “No, not ‘baby’ anymore, if I need you I’ll just use your simple name… only kisses on the cheek from now on, and in a little while we’ll only have to wave.”
Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is one of those albums that is known more for the circumstances of its release than its actual music. Initially the suits at the label refused to release it because they found it too arty and inaccessible, so Wilco offered it up for free on its Web site. After thunderous critical acclaim, the same parent company bought the album back and gave it an official release.
A win for The Artists vs. The Man. And a hell of a great album to boot.