Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
The Music Box's #1 album for 2002
First Appeared at The Music Box, June 2002, Volume 9, #6
Written by John Metzger
Though it lay in limbo for the better part of the past year, Wilco’s fourth effort Yankee Hotel Foxtrot drew tremendous praise from critics and fans alike. Such hype usually yields great disappointment, but in this case, it didn’t do the disc justice. Quite frankly, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is the most significant album to hit the rock world since Nirvana’s Nevermind — not to take anything away from Radiohead. And, as a Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for the new millennium, it’s one of the finest efforts ever to be released. How a label could pass this one up is anybody’s guess, but then again it offers further proof — as if any was needed — that the commercial aspects of the music business are woefully out of synch with the industry’s artistic side.
But that’s another story. Just know that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is an instant classic. Much like Summerteeth, the disc bends and blurs several decades of rock music into something exciting and new. As it turns out, however, Summerteeth was just the beginning — an unveiling of the next phase of Wilco’s career; the band’s Revolver. Here, Wilco pulls it all together, swerving in the blink of an eye from Pavement to the Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth to Buffalo Springfield, Smashing Pumpkins to The Beach Boys, Pink Floyd to Radiohead, and Bob Mould to T-Rex. It’s an immediate American response to Radiohead’s Kid A and Amnesiac as well as a delayed response to the initial British Invasion.
Lyrically, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot inhabits the same alt-country world of heartache and loss from which Wilco has always drawn — that is, the long, sorrowful road of America’s greatest folk singers. But with each passing album, Wilco has upped the ante, and principal songwriter Jeff Tweedy now tosses off Dylan-esque phrases with similar effortless brilliance. On paper, lines like "Take off your bandaid because I don’t believe in touchdowns" seem odd and nonsensical. But when heard through the fractured facade of Tweedy’s voice and the structured chaos of his band’s layered orchestrations, they suddenly take on great meaning.
Throughout Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, turbulent sounds swirl wildly as bursts of percussion, bells, whistles, xylophones, horns, and guitars shout out like morse code, occasionally parting briefly to reveal the underlying pop melodies. It’s within this musical pandemonium that Tweedy feels most at home, matching the emotional detachment of his words with the growing uneasiness of the music. The strange discordance of I Am Trying to Break Your Heart gives way to the bouncy Kamera; the haunted darkness of Radio Cure yields to the breezy War on War; and within the five- minute span of Poor Places, Wilco drifts from a Brian Wilson, piano-driven melody through a progressive rock groove before dissolving in a whirlwind of sonic dissonance.
Few bands, these days, are willing to tinker with their sound, finding solace in stability, if not artistic creativity. And then there’s Wilco. The group has bucked this trend, further pushing the envelope with each album it has released, refusing to remain static in its endeavors. That alone should be commended. But churning out the one-two punch of masterpieces in Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot — that’s truly something special, something worthy of the highest accolades that one can give them.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2002 The Music Box