When 2002 comes to a close, the band Wilco will most likely have performed a feat not often seen in the music industry. Dropped by their record label for creative differences regarding the 2001 record, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” the album was never released. Through Internet streaming and other mediums, however, the album still made several critics’ Best of 2001 lists. The finished copy, released Tuesday (record company- backed and all), is sure to find a home on many Best of 2002 lists as well.
The irony of the whole situation is that Reprise, the label that told Wilco to make the album more listener friendly, and Nonesuch, the label that finally put out the record, are both subsidiaries of AOL/Time Warner. That’s right: AOL/Time Warner bought the album twice, which is why in a perfect world, corporate rock would not exist.
After hearing “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” one must ask what Reprise was thinking. This is the best Wilco album to date. Categorized as “alt-country rockers,” Wilco’s country influenced sound expands to new boundaries on this album. Dissonant guitars, looping keyboard riffs, even traces of synthesizer are elements certainly not abundant in Wilco’s previous works. Surprisingly, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” sounds as if Wilco has been making this style of music since day one.
Wilco founder, songwriter/guitarist Jeff Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt were able to put together an extraordinary album in the face of some considerable adversity. Aside from the record label disputes, original drummer Ken Coomer and multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennet left the band just before recording began. Luckily, newcomers Glen Kotche and Leroy Bach filled their respective roles as if they had been founding members themselves.
The album is bi-polar in its themes and structure. The solemn opening track, “I’m Trying to Break Your Heart” has Tweedy’s drunken protagonist wishing he had never broken ties with a former lover. On the other side of the spectrum is “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” a bouncy, country pop ballad that would put a smile on those in the most somber of moods.
Mixed by prophetic musician/collaborator/producer Jim O’Rourke (Sonic Youth, Stereolab, Tortoise) the album showcases O’Rourke’s talent for coalescing various components of sound.
“Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” justifies the ubiquitous gripes artists have regarding their record labels. Perhaps Jeff Tweedy was hoping executives were listening when he wrote the song “Heavy Metal Drummer.”
“I miss the innocence I’ve known/playing Kiss covers/beautiful and stoned.” n