A Ghost Is Born
Wilco lead singer Jeff Tweedy, in the song “Ashes of American Flags,” from the band’s widely acclaimed 2002 release, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, sings, “I know that I would die if I could come back new.” Two years later — as is par for the course with all new Wilco releases — much of what the band was is dead. The result: A Ghost is Born.
It’s a logical progression, really. You live, you die and you are born again as a ghost. You come back new — like the words to the song say.
The album begins with “At Least That’s What You Said,” a song that seems destined to pierce the smoky air of late-night pubs 30 years in the future. Tweedy’s unschooled electric solo, coupled with a dose of typical Wilco musical menagerie, makes “ALTWYS” feel like a classic.
In fact, the first four songs on AGIB feature Tweedy taking his electric into unchartered, ethereal territory, where Neil Youngish guitar blasts mesh cozily with screaming feedback. The fifth song, “Hummingbird,” brings him back to his most tried and true musical instrument, the pen.
“His goal in life was to be an echo/The type of sound that floats around/And then back down like a feather/But in the deep, chrome canyons of the loudest Manhattans/No one could hear him,” Tweedy sings. The rollicking piano beat and Tweedy’s faux British accent in the chorus create an Abbey Road feel, as the song neutralizes nicely the metallic feel leading up to it, and sets up the final seven tracks perfectly.
The album’s most fun song is “I’m a Wheel,” a punk-infused track meant to be played loudly that features the disc’s most pleasantly ambiguous line: “I’m a wheel/I will/Turn on you.”
The best song follows it on AGIB, “Theologians,” a track that seems to best embody the baby ghost Wilco has died to become. In other words, if you packed the whole of AGIB into one 3-minute, 38-second medley, you might just get “Theologians.” Toward the end of the song, Tweedy sings, “No one is ever gonna take my life from me/I lay it down/A ghost is born.” Following this line, in what is Tweedy’s last guitar solo on the album, something creepy happens. Listeners witness the culmination of the band’s metaphoric labor; Tweedy gives birth to a ghost right in front of our ears, as his guitar screams, as would a newborn upon taking his first breaths.
On “Theologians,” the eccentricity for which Wilco is known works beautifully.
On “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” and “Less Than You Think,” the effect isn’t quite as ingratiating. The former tests the listener’s patience, as a former fan-favorite made popular on recent tours is stripped down instrumentally and then elongated into a 10-minute snooze-fest. In the latter, Wilco adds 12 minutes of pure noise to a lyrically beautiful, otherwise listenable song. The inclusion of the noise could carry some sort of paranormal symbolism to go along with the album’s ghostly motif, but would probably fit better at the end of the CD, where artistic statements can be easily skipped if deemed too pretentious.
The album ends with a song that pays tribute to a make-believe band (The Late Greats) that gets no recognition or radio play. Heck, that’s the story of Wilco’s career. Now that they’ve died, become ghosts and put out their best album to date, it would only make sense for the group to assume the name of that fake band on future albums. Indeed, Wilco’s death and the great music on AGIB truly make them late greats.
Contact Ryan Meehan firstname.lastname@example.org