about setting yourself high standards: I'd wager that in 20 years or so A
Ghost is Born
(from 2004) will be Wilco's entry in the pantheon of top 100
albums-of-all-time polls. Written in the pall of lyricist / singer Jeff
Tweedy's addiction to painkillers as a result of severe migraines, it has an
honesty and abandon to it, with widely noted references to Neil Young,
Kraftwerk and, perhaps, Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden. Its inclusion of a 10 minute
feedback drone displays the band's confidence, and the record has a full,
organic sound reminiscent of vinyl. Lyrics that include
So he slept on a mountain.
In a sleeping bag underneath the
he would lie awake and count 'em
'just another rash of kidsmoke' and 'it's good to be alone' ('Spiders')
amaze, and recently provided a name for Simon Aldred's 'Cherry Ghost'
So this is Tweedy's John Wesley Harding then, recovered from his addictions and
winking at us from the inlay? Certainly there's a deliberateness - even a
lumpeness on some tracks - to this music. Tweedy refers to his past 'rotten
times' with drunks 'ricocheting' the walls, and meets the present with
'that's good enough for now' equanimity.
First thoughts on hearing Sky Blue Sky? It's definitely good, but lacking the sonic punch -
the kick - of A Ghost is Born. It sounds mostly like it was played sitting down (a band photo of
the sessions suggests as much) and its restraint, with strings arranged by
Jim O'Rourke, often recalls Lambchop, albeit with Wilco's trick of repeatedly
striking a chord to lift a track out of its orbit.
Immediate highlights: the entrance of the drums as Tweedy sings 'Maybe the
sun will shine' on opener 'Either Way'; the Garth Hudson-style organ on the
same track; the long poem 'You Are My Face' (Tweedy's lyrics have appeared in
American poetry journals) with its Byrds-like underwash of picked guitar; the
beautiful 'Impossible Germany' with its Steely Dan-reminiscent duelling
guitars and a fragile lyric about falling in love,
But this is what love is for
to be out of place
gorgeous and alone
face to face
; the lovely eponymous track. These are followed by a slight lull in terms of
musical variation broken by the melody of 'Hate it Here', an excellent
exercise / genre song about a guy keeping house to distract himself from the
fact that his girlfriend has left him, before the final two tracks, anthemic
'There's a Light' and insistent closer 'On and On and On' round the
collection. Amidst these, 'Please Be Patient With Me' and 'Leave Me As You
Found Me' are almost Tweedy solo performances.
Tweedy, (featured in several guises in the first season of Bob Dylan's 'Theme
Time Radio Hour') makes several lyrical nods to Dylan's later work here. The
refrain 'That's good enough for now' (from 'Sky Blue Sky') echoes the last
line of 'Highlands', closer to 1997's Time Out of Mind; and in 'Shake It Off' when
Tweedy compares a hotel to a 'giant beast of many souls' before reflecting
'No / Just a body / Full of holes,' that 'No' is lifted straight out of
'Spirit on the Water' from Modern Times.
Sky Blue Sky? Another solid entry in Wilco's
canon, though one which often pushes the poetry to the front. Mind you,
Tweedy's lyrics have a way of staying with you, and I can't stop listening to
several tracks on this album. And just how good is 'Impossible Germany'?
© Matt Bryden 2007