When A Ghost is Born is released this June, expect to read many, many references to "the ghost of Jay Bennett." Bennett is credited with many of the poppier, polished moments on the last few Wilco records, and his adherence to the pop sound is seen as one of the main reasons he was asked to leave the band.
While diehard fans of the band will love the new album, it's missing much of the zinging, trilling beauty of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. This is probably to the satisfaction of frontman Jeff Tweedy, whose guitar is starting to echo the ragged glory of Neil Young on his noisy days. In fact, Young is a much more appropriate reference point for Ghost than the terms "Beatleseque" or "Wilsonian," which were attached to Summerteeth and Yankee (although "I'm a Wheel" recalls John Lennon at his most brash). You can hear Young in the searing jam on the eleven-minute "Spiders" and in the way the album moves from gentle songs to white noise. "Handshake Drugs" starts off as a lovely, folksy number that slowly dissolves into burbling noise.
Fans of Tweedy's increasingly abstract lyrics won't be disappointed, either. Like R.E.M., Wilco's lyrics can sit just on the sublime side of ridiculous yet contain poetic images strong enough to lodge in the subconscious.
Overall, Ghost reveals that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was a true transitional album: Ghost equals Yankee Hotel Foxtrot minus Summerteeth. It's good that the band is growing, but those of you who love the shiny beauty of those earlier albums might wish that Wilco hadn't grown up so fast.
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