Review Summary: You Won't Like It At First.
A strange feeling of loneliness encases the listener immediately after pressing play on their cd player and beginning Wilco's landmark 2002 release, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. From first glance at the dull coloured apartment buildings on the albums cover to hearing the sense of defeat portrayed in vocalist Jeff Tweedy's voice, it simply brings you to another world. The desolate sonic palette from which the record is painted is not only a reflection on post 9-11 America, but also a thorough reflection on the difficulty the band faced at the time, both with themselves and their management. The band is often compared to Radiohead, though I only hear slight resemblances. Sure, the textbook "Radiohead ambiance" is there, along with the occasional discordance, but once you hear it the differences are made obvious.
Now most people already know what the bands issues were during the making of the album but if not, let me fill you in.
Wilco gave their label “Reprise Records” the recordings for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Keep in mind that at the time, Wilco was a highly respected artist and were a real money-earner for the label. They were playing sold out shows and selling albums.
Regardless, Reprise was unimpressed.
Upper management asked Tweedy to make some changes in the songs so that they would be more “radio friendly” and appeal to a larger audience. Tweedy quickly declined saying the album was done and he didn’t want to make changes to it. In the end, Reprise dropped Wilco from the label but still let them keep the album that they thought wouldn’t sell.
Amidst all of this chaos it was reported on August 14 that Jay Bennett left Wilco, the only explanation being "creative differences."
Wilco then chose to stream the album in it’s entirety over the internet, a subject that is still controversial today and it received a very positive reception from fans and critics alike.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
The album opens with “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” which makes the bands change in sound obvious right from the get-go. The track is nearly seven minutes long yet, doesn’t seem to drag on. After starting out with some nice organ sounds and intermittent percussion, a guitar and bass enter the fray, and eventually the track builds to include piano, and all kinds of other strange percussion sounds, eventually rambling out to a shimmering ending. The band keeps things interesting with the next sing along track “Kamera.” Then slows things back down with the experimental and epic “Radio Cure.”
The album in it’s entirety seems to follow the same mood throughout but manages to prevent the songs from sounding the same. “Ashes Of American Flags” is a highly emotional track that still maintains the odd, creepy background noises. The group comes back with more experimental pop-rock tracks like "Heavy Metal Drummer" and "War On War," while "Jesus, etc" swaggers along with a funky rhythm section, some nice organ sounds, and string quartet. They also manage to rock out with the track "I'm The Man Who Loves You."
The album is basically a well crafted, rainy day soundtrack.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is nothing less than a classic for modern rock music. It’s rare to come across an album that holds so much originality and creativity along with emotion and instrumentation. It’s true, the songs would be difficult to play on the radio (no singles were ever released) but if you give it a chance, the album is sure to grow on you.