Customer Review

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A transmission of haunting and lasting beauty., 26 April 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Audio CD)
Having the dubious honour of 'inventing' the non-genre (or, rather, journalistic construct) of alt.country, Jeff Tweedy has produced a consistently affecting, albeit undemanding, body of work. Always in thrall not just to the influence of classic Americana, but also in equal parts the Beatles and the Stones, Wilco songs are faithful purveyors of tradition but also refreshing and likeable. With 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot', Tweedy clearly felt that more could be achieved. Aside from the static radio noise and unusual production, this is easily Wilco's best and most accessible collection of songs. It sounds coherent, reflective, and honest and is characterised by an emotional clarity which pop music only rarely attains. It works because it is challenging and rewarding in equal measure.
The opening 'I am Trying to Break Your Heart' serves as a statement of intent, Tweedy confessing to being an 'American aquarium drinker' and pondering 'what was I thinking when I let go of you?' This, like the other songs here, addresses the common theme of fraught and strained relationships with newfound grace and sincerity. The static and feedback noises that swirl underneath it act as a filter through which the gorgeous melody is presented. The involvement of Jim O' Rourke ( a man seemingly destined for legendary status) at the mixing stage clearly had a profound influence on the shaping of this extraordinary sound. The static is a consistent underto here - right up to the awesome closing track 'Reservations' (where Tweedy is at his confessional best)- and it is highly effective.
Underneath all the faint noise and hum, the music is actually pretty conventional. This is not necessarily a bad thing as Wilco are playing to their strengths with the wistful, folky melodicism of 'Radio Cures' or the classic radio rock of 'Kamera'. Yet, they are also becoming more adventurous in their arrangements. The violin that colours the subtle 'Jesus etc' and the guitar effects that permeate the sublime 'Ashes of American flags' show them piecing together new sounds and ideas. This is traditional pop music both reshaped and refocussed through a modern production ethic.
There is a great theme of distance here - whether in literal or metaphorical terms, between the two protagonists of a relationship.'Distance has a way of making love understandable', sings Tweedy, regrettably, and the whole album has this sense of contemplation and rumination on love. This is not entirely without humour - as 'Heavy Metal Drummer' and 'Pot Kettle Black', both more upbeat tracks, have a gleeful irony that acts as a convenient and necessary respite. The lasting impression, however, is of the whole album sounding like a broadcast over radio waves, communication becoming a real struggle.
Yet, this album resonates and communicates loud and clear. It's a subtle, yet deeply insistent collection, performed with understated charm and dignity. Lyrically, it's a quantum leap forward. Eschewing convoluted metaphor and allusion, this is a direct and powerful testament delivered in the simple language that the uniformly excellent songs require. On 'Poor places' and 'Reservations' particularly, the anxiety is palpable. Both beautiful and enticing, this is a million miles from the commercial suicide of, say, Terence Trent D'Arby's 'Neither Fish nor Flesh' or Lou Reed's 'Metal Machine Music'. It is a resoundingly unpretentious work, free from self indulgence and full of warmth.
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