I was sitting here just a little bit ago looking at the cover of this album, and it ignited a undying craving for scrambled eggs that will never be fulfilled. "Why?", you eagerly emote. Well...
We're out of eggs.
- Vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar & baritone, twelve-strings, six-string acoustic bass, loops, filters & synths
- Bass, eletric guitar, backround vocals, piano, acoustic guitar, loops, filters & synths
- Drums, hammered dulcimer, percussion, loops, filters & synths
- Piano, Korg CX-3 organ, bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, vibes, loops, filters & synths
- Synthesize, piano, RMI Rocksichord, farfisa organ, Fenix modular synthesizer, Serge modular synthesizer, stylophone
= Piano, bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, ARP 2600, loops, filters & synths
- Hammer dulcimer
Obviously Jeff Tweedy is not a man that runs out of eggs often. Wilco has been at it for awhile, constantly evolving from a standard alt-country/rock band into one that does a lot more experimenting than say, The Eagles. I'm not sure if I have ever read a overly negative response concerning any of their previous albums. But, one thing you need to take into account before you even consider listening to Wilco's most recent studio effort, A Ghost is Born
: don't count your chickens before the eggs hatch.
A Ghost is Born
is the sound of a little band wanting to sound like a huge rock band. This is mainly due to Jim O'Rourke, one of the most well-respected and lauded producers in the past ten years or so, especially in the indie world. Other than being a producer and engineer, Jim is also a multi-instrumentalist, which hints at his understanding of dynamics, space, texture, and so on. His, along with Wilco's, production gives A Ghost is Born
a distant feel, although it is still as warm, ethearal, and welcoming as you would expect it to be. Not all credit can be given to the production techniques of Jim O'Rourke, though; Jeff Tweedy and the rest of the intstrumentalists here are all fine musicians, with a fine understanding of when not
to play. Tweedy's voice can be one of the most depressing around. He sounds fragile, heartbroken, down-on-life, but you know he has just a little bit of hope left somewhere in that lil' heart of his. Often, he is only accompanied by a piano, until each instrument slowly comes in, hinting at a climax somewhere in the song. This is the opening track "At Least That's What You Said", although it goes from a somber piano ballad to a thumping, loud, and exhuberant solo section. Tweedy then proceeds to rip apart the song with sloppy, fuzzed-out soloing. This, however, seems to project so much passion that it's a welcome addition to the song. Epic.
Quite a few of the quieter, mellower songs on A Ghost is Born
stand out much more than uptempo, though boring, rockers like "Spiders (Kidsmoke)", which drones on for an unacceptable 10 minutes, and "I'm A Wheel", a fast no-nonsense quicky, just in case you forgot that Wilco couldn't rock out old-school. "Hell is Chrome" follows up the emotional powerhouse "At Least That's What You Said", with a piano part sounding very familiart to The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down". It tends to drag though, especially considering that it is placed inbetween more uptempo tracks. What saves the song is Jeff Tweedy's lead guitar playing, just as emotive as his voice. "Hummingbird" is an uptempo, piano-driven ditty with beautiful sections throughout, most notabley Karen Waltuch's viola fills. You know, I really hate to say this about an album, but best thing about A Ghost is Born
is that, whether you ignore the lyrics or not, the songs all remain the same as they would have otherwise. Quite a lot of Tweedy's lyrics seem to be nonsense ("Spiders are filling out tax returns / Spinning out webs of deductions and melodies / On a private beach in Michigan"). If there is a backstory or point to A Ghost is Born
, than I have certainly missed something by examining these lyrics for several days.
"Handshake Drugs" might just be one of the best songs on A Ghost is Born
. Brief guitar stabs, bubbling bass lines, and piano accents along with what could be the most danceable drum part on the whole album accompany what seems to be a mix between a Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan vocal delivery. The lyrics seem to detail scoring drugs, downtown. But Jeff sounds pretty damn happy singing about sunny days and chewing gum (and drugs lolz). It ends with guitars creating some spiraling noise, and some other glitchy supercool stuff that sounds like Chewbaca having sex with a bumblebee. "Wishful Thinking" starts off promising enough, y'know, with kitchen noises and some clattering noises. Until that noisy acoustic strumming comes in. Who can listen to that crap anyway? "Company in My Back" isn't exactly a big winner. It's basically the better acoustic songs on A Ghost is Born
, but it's actually pretty boring since Jeff Tweedy just mumbles about while some acoustic melodies come through, which happen to be the only good part about the song. Sorry Jeff. "Theologians" kicks the last two or three songs' asses. You know why? Groovy drums and some more classic rock-influenced playing from the whole band. It could be an Elton John song I guess, but with a Lynyrd Skynyrd fill (It sounds like "What's Your Name") and some pretty rockin' (cheesy) guitar playing. Of course, you're not really allowed to enjoy yourself for too
long, right? This is where the terrible, terrible, terrible "Less Than You Think" comes in. Obviously Jim O'Rourke had a lot do with the devolopement of the song; a few minutes of piano balladry ruined by 13 minutes of subterranean noises and a high-pitched wavering noises. "The Late Greats" is nice and alt-country: happy, upbeat, rockin'. Stuff like that. It ends a bombasat-filled album with a non-pretentious note, which I greatly admire for some odd reason because most of the album is good.
Even if some songs are terrible attempts at being overly creative and pretentious ("Spiders (Kidsmoke)", "Less Than You Think"), much of A Ghost is Born
shows that it's never too late to try and be a big 'ol rock 'n' roll band, though I highly doubt that Wilco will ever achieve that particular status. Therere guitar heroics in Least That's What You Think" and "Hell is Chrome", but they are easily counterbalanced by plaintively arranged piano sectons and Jeff Tweedy's soulful, fragile voice. Sometimes we all need a good breafast, an egg and maybe some bacon or something like that (pancakes and waffles are for little boys), but A Ghost is Born
ain't exactly the egg you want to be crackin' and cookin' up so you can digest it and put it back into the water. Nah. But, it is
a fine, beautifully crafted album with a fine attention to detail and a good knack for melodies and not
At Least That's What You Said