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A Ghost Is Born
Nonesuch Records

"There's a ghost born every second, and if you let the ghosts take your guts by sheer force of numbers you haven't got a chance though probably no one has a right to judge you. (Besides which the ghosts are probably as scared of you as you are of them.)" - Lester Bangs

Listening to Wilco can be best described, and perhaps only described in this way: waking up next to a naked woman in the honeylike yellow sun. And no, not in the "what the hell did I just do?" kind of way, but in the "I can't believe I'm with her right now" way. That thank-you-God feeling you sometimes get. And they worked damn hard to deserve that reputation.

Having said that, A Ghost Is Born is far from their best work (and at times, qualifies as disappointing). Even so, it suceeds in exactly what the group's previous efforts have encompassed: bringing forth unknown missing feeling to make the listener's heart wrench. The kind of feeling you get when you think of a first pet dying, or moving away from your best friend. The feeling still lingers....but you can feel that pain for what it was: a learning experience.

And that's exactly what lead singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy has been through since he and Wilco have achieved (semi) commercial success with the critically acclaimed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: a learning experience. Fresh out of rehab (and looking like it), Tweedy rejoined the band in time to tour in support Ghost this summer. He's been back in the public eye lately, with everyone from Rolling Stone to numerous hack web sites copying down his every word.

So why am I writing this now, months after its release date? Good question. I've been wrestling with this review for a while now, probably for the same reason a lot of fans have wrestled with this record. What do you do or say after a monumental, career defining album? For the band, the answer is easy. Keep recording and making music of course. There's nothing else they can do, and well, that's what they damn well did. And shouldn't some blood mark the spot while they're doing it???? For Tweedy and co., after going through 5 full albums and numerous lineup changes, some blood does mark the spot, especially for their listeners.

Perhaps because of that, a lot of people are quick to sit there and dump ten tons of slag on this record. And I guess its a product of Tweedy's greatness, the general public has come to expect better each time out. Sort of like the Americans winning bronze in basketball. It just ain't good enough for most. But this is good material.
I've recently been discussing this record with a friend (whose opinions I hold in high regard) to some extent. He seems to think that this record won't hold up to the test of time... hell, it doesn't hold up now, 2 months after its release. I agreed with him at the time of the conversation, but for the sake of accuracy, and who are we kidding, something semi relevant to say, I went back to it. And wouldn't-you-goddamn-know-it, I like this disc a whole hell of a lot.

I'd like to sit here and tell you why I like it, go through each song, point out the strengths and weaknesses. But you probably don't care as much as I do, and that would just be jerking off on the page for my own entertainment. I know my editors wouldn't be too thrilled at that prospect, so I'll keep it to a few points. Here goes...

1) There are some profound songs here, Tweedy doesn't draw Dylan comparisons with smoke and mirrors. Okay okay, so you do have to use the fast forward button more than in the past. But it's almost a popular/accepted thing these days to say this record falls short, and I just don't see it. "At Least That's What You Said" and "Hell Is Chrome" are a pair of well put together songs, and I repeatedly find myself going back to them. The guitar work at the end of the former is especially refreshing (yes, I know he's severely criticized for his...shall we say 'experiments' on this album. I'll get to that...) "Hummingbird" and "Company in My Back" are great songs, and hold up with most any other previous effort.

2) Wilco misses departed multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett on this one. Sorely. You have Mr. Tweedy's ego to blame for that one. Bennett did a lot more than a lot of people give him credit for on Being There, Summerteeth and YHF, and his presence is missed here. Since his departure, Bennett has been working with singer-songwriter Edward Burch, with the pair releasing the album Bigger Than Blue this past May. Everyone would've been better served if they could've sucked it up and stayed together.

3) A lot of people have complained that Tweedy has a gone a bit too far from his bread and butter. Songwriting, that is, in favor of jamming out at the end of songs. That it doesn't fit his style and he should stick to what he's good at. Most of the criticism is warranted, which becomes especially apparent on the solo in "Spiders (Kidsmoke)," which reminds me of a dying bird. And I know he was trying to accomplish something with the eleven minute long feedback experiment (which sounded like a Kraftwerk wet dream), but what it was I have no idea, and more to the point, I don't think I care.

So what to make of all this? It's simple. If you liked any of Wilco's previous records, buy this one. They didn't break any new ground here, which is probably where most of the backlash is coming from, but A Ghost Is Born serves its purpose.

-Jason Dunbar

Track Listings:

1. At Least That's What You Said
2. Hell Is Chrome
3. Spiders (kidsmoke)
4. Muzzle Of Bees
5. Hummingbird
6. Handshake Drugs
7. Wishful Thinking
8. Company In My Back
9. I'm A Wheel
10. Theologians
11. Less Than you think
12. The Late Greats

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