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on 13 June 2008
All the acrimony surrounding the release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, in which Wilco left Warner/Reprise to resist attempts to make the record more commericially viable, seems bizarre now. For despite its moments of sonic chaos YHF is a great, Beatles-esque, countryfied pop masterpiece with great hooks and immediately indentifiable melodies. `A Ghost is Born', however, is a more genuinely uncompromising prospect, with Sonic Youth member and producer-in-chief Jim O'Rourke adding some of his other band's willfully deconstructive approach to the recording. Where YFH had the air of an album heavily - pleasingly to my ears - embellished with a wide arsenal of sonic trickery, `A Ghost is Born' has a more back-to-basics approach to experimentalism. The album unfurls in an unhurried and arguably more organic manner, with the guitar the main weapon of both dischordance and melody. On tracks like the opener `At Least that's What you Said' hushed acoustic moments and Jef Tweedy's mournful whisper give way to intense squalls of guitar that send shockwaves through the listener. It's a rawer, more expansive set that suggests a band dynamic in ways that its predecessor did not. However, lapses into ghostly near-silence, impounded by the whiter-than-white cover artwork, make it an uneasy listen. There is a blankness, a kind of textural abstraction that makes the album a little hard to grasp. It takes a few listens for the ideas and mood to make themselves apparent where a loose formlessness initially irk.

The songs themselves are not nearly is poppy as those of their predecessor, and some are so willfully obscure as to test the listeners engagement. Two long, largely instrumental passages do not really justify their length - the first `Spiders (Kidsmoke)' drifts by for ten-minutes on a largely unaltered Krautrock rhythm. The little storms improvised-sounding guitar do not sustain the attention and one wonders why such a jam should make it on the final cut of the album. Likewise, the 15-minute (!) `Less than You Think', may be an in-joke, as most of it is a shimmering drone that would test fans of John Cage. Neither of these tracks warrant their inclusion and marr an otherwise absorbing and atmospheric record.

`Muzzle of Bees' swells from breezy alt-country decorated with a lovely piano refrain into a cacophonous finale with a gorgeous spasm of guitar. `Hummingbird' is a more conventionally Wilco take on Beatles-esque pop, nicely embellished with some jaunty viola at the end. 'Handshake Drugs' slowly works its way out of a plodding non-descript start by building layers of feedback that menace and finally subsume the song in a fog of dissonance. All these tracks seem quite harmless, even bland, on first (even second) listens, but subsequently start to reveal subtle sonic shifts and careful detailing.

If a Ghost is Born is a concept album then, it is the way Wilco subvert the superficial prettiness of their songs with darker atmospheric shades, but with such a stealth to make it initially unnoticeable or ghost-like. This concept is hinted at in the cover artwork, where simple forms like eggshells and screwed-up paper resemble photos but reveal themselves on closer inspection to be very cleverly shaded drawings. The implication seems to be simple that `A Ghost is Born' is melodic pop on the surface, but there is a subtle artistry beneath. Where YFH employed similar strategies with static and radio-interference, A Ghost is Born is more restrained, and sometimes a little too subtle. Arguably Tweedy's songwriting is not on par with the earlier album, and the singing a little too innocuous where sometimes something more muscular is required.

The standout track for me is `Company in My Back', with cryptic lyrics and bittersweet musicianship. The song begins and ends with a halting loop, and the sinister undertones are reflected in the rougher edge of the Tweedy's vocals. While `I'm a Wheel' is a bog-standard rocker, `Theologians' - the de facto title track - is the kind of bluesy, Costello-esque pop, underpinned by thumping piano. The limited edition version of this album includes a handful of live tracks, which might interest completists, and two bonus tracks. One of the latter, Panthers, is easily the equal of the album tracks and probably should have been included over, say, 'Less than You Think'. The kind of spacious indie-pop augmented with simple electronics perfected by Spoon, it's better than the usual fare served up on these CDs but is the only item of interest on disc 2 for me.
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on 16 July 2004
I can appreciate that people may feel disappointed with this album. It takes a different approach to previous albums, gone are the samples and electronica of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, replaced instead with layers of echoing guitar distortion. This is not entirely uncharted territory for Wilco reminiscent of songs like Being There's Misunderstood or Summerteeth's via Chicago. It may be difficult the first time through but after three weeks listening I now love the dirge of Less Than You Think and the disco/prog rock love child Spiders as much as the melodic folk of Hummingbird or classic rocker The Late Greats. If you are looking to buy your first Wilco record this would not be the place to start: you would be far better off buying 2001's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. However, if you are already a convert or a fan of Jim O'Rouke's work you will find this a very rewarding album. I'd even go as far as saying it is my favourite album of 2004 so far.
Another reason to buy this album not mentioned in the other reviews is that if you have an internet connection stick it in your CD-ROM drive to listen to a complete streaming concert recorded live at the Vic Theatre, Chicago. The set list is:
via Chicago
The Late Greats
Company in My Back
Radio Cure
At Least That's What You Said
Hell Is Chrome
I am trying to break your heart
Handshake Drugs
Wishful Thinking
Shot in the arm
War on war
Muzzle of Bees
Jesus, etc.
Poor places
I'm the man who loves you
I'm a wheel
Kicking television (previously unreleased song)
Heavy metal drummer
California Stars
Passenger Side
The lonely 1
If like me you have trouble playing this concert, download the newest version of Quicktime from
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on 9 September 2006
It's a stunning album, as you'll learn pretty quickly if you look up the original releases page (or listen to the record).

As for whether the bonus disc demands buying the album again, that's a trickier question. To some extent the release of the 2CD live album "Kicking Television" makes the live tracks fairly irrelevant, additionally that record includes the best track from the bonus disc (Kicking Television itself) albeit in a noticeably different interpretation.

If you don't own this record yet, I'd highly recomend buying this version, if you do, then it depends if you value two new Wilco tunes more than the price of a whole album. The music industry does its no favours when they re-release an album that fans already own, for every person who buys the record again two more are driven to (usually illegally) download them.
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on 9 January 2008
This album shows how well Wilco mix melody and tunefulness witha more experimental side. 'At least that's what you said' has got to be one of the best opening tracks of all time, with its slow, gentle piano and vocals that suddenly break into that neil young-crazy horse distortion that they do so well. i remember when i first heard this and when the guitar came in it sent shivers down my spine. Tweedy and Co. show how much German bands like Neu! have influenced them with the driving motorik of 'Spiders (Kidsmoke)'and 'I'm a Wheel'. 'Hummingbird' is dreamy and ethereal, with 'Theologians' and 'Wishful Thinking' alongside it which are perfectly bittersweet songs. This is a fantastic album and I would seriously recommend any '70's Neil Young or Neu! if you like what is here. Buy it now if you don't already have it.
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on 23 June 2004
I was turned on to Wilco when a review described 1999's Summer Teeth as a 'bar room Sergeant Pepper'. A big shiny record, taking the passion of Elvis Costello and the Byrds jangle to another place. Better still, 2002's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, whose story is brilliantly told on 'I am trying to make a film' (DVD), where producer Jim O'Rourke replaces the previous sheen with interference, unsettling arrangements and heart-breaking honesty, culminating in what was up till then, the best music Tweedy & co had put out.
YHF raised my expectations to impossible levels, but 'A ghost is born' takes us to a new place where the influence of O'Rourke is present, but takes second place to a more organic, engaging sound where musical conventions are stripped down and re-worked with warmth, passion and some good humour. Spiders (Kidsmoke) is ten minuteslong, but you're disappointed when it finishes. Muzzle of Bees is otherworldy, but engaging and melodic. 'I'm a wheel' recalls Heavy Metal Drummer from YHF and 'the late greats' mixes Neil Young & Crazy Horse's 'Home grown' with Tweedy's experimental vision. You would even forgive them for the 12 minutes of drone contained within 'Less than you think' such is the power of this record.
It's many years since I listened to a record for the first time and knew I'd got a hold of a classic. 'A ghost is born' lifts the spirits and should be used by all right thinking parents to turn their kids on to something genuinely inspiring. Five stars, no question, probably one of the best ten records I've ever heard.
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on 2 August 2007
The follow up to `Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' was always going to have a hard time of it and, unsurprisingly, this record has come in for a lot of stick for not being YHF. Sure, it is a definite step down - but a very small one.

On its own term this is a stunning album. Much heavier than YHF and featuring a lot more guitar (a LOT) but still brimming with melodies and great songs.

Like other Wilco albums it can sound a little `odd' on first listen but coming back to it now a few years down the line it is surprising how well it stands up and how straight up it sounds.

Certainly not their best album but one well worth getting (and you can always skip the second half of `Less than you think' when you are not in the mood for a 10 minute drone) - 4 ½ stars!
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on 2 September 2008
Following up the truly magnificent `Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' was never going to be easy, but with `A Ghost Is Born' Wilco has managed to produce a record of equal impact if not of consistent quality.

On the whole, `A Ghost Is Born' is a quieter, more introspective album than its predecessor and this is most evident on the aching, melancholy heart of the record, the five tracks from `Muzzle of Bees' to `Company in My Back'. These songs are strongly piano-led, with string flourishes and splashes of guitar augmenting Tweedy's lyrics which speak of alienation, uncertainty and instability. The lines from `Handshake Drugs' are a perfect example: "I looked someone I used to know/I felt alright/And if I ever was myself I wasn't that night."

But this remarkable record cannot be generalised, because elsewhere there are some striking differences in style. `Spiders (Kidsmoke)' is a 10-minute monotonous `Krautrock' chugger whilst the opener, `At Least That's What You Said' features a fiercely squally guitar attack. `I'm a Wheel' is a weak track, approaching sub-indie thrash and as forgettable as a Sebadoh B-side.

Worthy of highlighting because of its sheer willful awkwardness is `Less Than You Think'; fifteen minutes long but fully ten of these are nothing but droning and rumbling sounds. God knows what the label bosses thought of this, and I suppose Tweedy is to be admired for his bravery, but the truth is that the drone section does not work and seems a pointless exercise. He should listen to the Body Haters' '34:13' to hear how drones and industrial noises can be made compelling.

But there is yet another facet to `A Ghost Is Born' because in between `Less Than You Think' are `Theologians' and `The Late Greats', two joyous, upbeat stomping tracks which recall the band's more carefree early material. `The Late Greats' is particularly enjoyable, genuinely funny and ends the record on a positive note.

So overall, what is `A Ghost Is Born'? It is a true heavyweight rock album: demanding; richly textured; beautifully melodic; supremely well-played and performed; delightful yet frustrating and exasperating as well. It sounds like it is suffering from some mental illness, a personality disorder perhaps, but it is compelling and vital as well. I cannot give it five stars yet I would recommend it without hesitation and it is a real favourite of mine. A true mass of contradictions, but at its best solid gold.
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on 16 July 2004
Why this band doesn't get more recognition in this country is beyond me...maybe it's the tag...who knows. There is certainly nothing Dolly Parton about Wilco...just fantastic music. If you appreciate great music then you'll love Wilco and this album is probably their best yet.
It's an intelligent, thoughtful album, which needs a few listens before it really gets under your skin and lodges itself in your imagination. Jeff Tweedy's powers as a songwriter are immense...and he's not afraid to open his soul in his lyrics. It's a personal journey that invites you along for the ride to share the highs and lows. There isn't one weak track but if I had to pick out the outstanding one I would have to say Spiders (kidsmoke) brilliance. I saw them play this track live at the Academy and it rocked big style. Best live band I've seen in...well ever.
Wilco are the best band in the world right now. Forget Coldplay, Keane, Franz Ferdinand, or any of your other guitar/indie clones. Wilco are the real deal.
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on 10 May 2005
Despite what the other reviewer has said, Wilco can hardly be accused of ripping off their fans. This new 2cd version of the album has 5 extra tracks, but as anyone who knows this band can tell you, the band has offered a lot of downloads from their website, so Wilco are clearly not to be lumped in with other acts who do rip off fans!
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on 8 December 2005
I am in my mid thirties and find it ever harder to find new music I love. A friend of mine got me onto Wilco. Superlatives ain't in it! I am now tracking back through their earlier albums. I can't get enough. I've come home!
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