Imagine an album that manages to draw influences from records that came before it, but manages to sound like nothing else yet recorded. That manages to detail emotions on the human spectrum in such a way that, even if you've never experienced it, you somehow manage to know what it feels like. An album that is so compelling, complex and challenging but still remains completely free of any pretence. Believe it or not this album actually exists, and it goes by the name of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It's existed on the internet and in bootleg form for over a year now whilst labels battled it out for who was going to release it, but now we can revel in what Wilco have finally given us. One of the best albums in recent times.
But surely that's a bit of a sweeping statement? Well I guess it could be, but after a few listens of 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' it's incredibly hard not fall for it. That's because everything about it is just amazing. It's sublime production, affecting lyrics and the way it manages to take you on a roller coaster of the human condition whilst still remaining continuous and focussed throughout. Beginning with it's controlled, building percussion* 'I Am Trying To Break Your Heart'* starts of the album, a song like many on the record which explore a strained relationship in a way that is graceful and reflective and never...tacky. Here lead singer, Jeff Tweedy's husky, smoke-filled voice confesses_ "What was I thinking when I let go of you?"_ before the whole song disappears into static and background noise and we're taken to the next song. Like I said, the theme of relationships is heavily featured on this album, with Tweedy's lyrics offering different perspectives on them.* "Radio Cure"* pounding percussion and acoustic guitar offers the view of a relationship failed with no going back, ("distance has no way of making love understandable") whereas the violin-graced * "Jesus Etc"* is the exact opposite, the celebration of love (_"Don't Cry / You can rely on me honey / You can come by any time you want / I'll be around / You were right about the stars / Each one is a setting sun"_). Even if you've never been in either of the situations, these songs manage to put you there. The record's closer * 'Reservations'* is quite simply a classic, the way Tweedy's voice pleads over a background of slow piano and swirling electronics _"I've got reservations about so many things / but not about you"_. It's true, Tweedy's lyrics have a large part to do with this album, and it's so hard not to fill this review right up with them. There's an obvious progression from the days of 'Summerteeth' , there it was obvious that Tweedy was a talented songwriter but there are lines on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot which demonstrate a maturity and progression that could easily place Jeff Tweedy alongside peers Mark Eitzel and Will Oldham.
However it's by making well-crafted pop songs that Wilco made their name and there are no let-ups here. From the infectiously catchy first single * "War on War", electric guitar led * "I'm the Man Who Loves You" to the simple celebration of youth and happiness on "Heavy Metal Drummer", Wilco have made pop songs which have an amount of sonic exploration that would see fit on one of Sonic Youth's SYR releases. The combination of Jim O Rourke's mixing and the band themselves producing the album make sure of that.
It's not very often that an album that can be identified as a classic comes out, but when they do you know that it's worth it. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot gives that gratification, even when it's at it's most maudlin and desperate (Radio Cure, Kamera), there's something about it, be it the lyrics, the production or just it's atmosphere that makes it special. Once it gets into your head it won't ever leave, but then...why should it?
10nafees saeed's Score