A Ghost Is Born


    Things have been tough for Wilco. If bearing the weight of much of
    the entire early alt-country movement on their back wasn’t enough, much
    of the press has seen fit to grant them another burdensome title to
    schlep around — “Saviors of Rock.” Always premature, such worship has
    nearly toppled more than one lofty talent (Radiohead comes to mind),
    and Wilco’s gut-wrenchingly beautiful fifth outing, A Ghost Is Born, is a fitting testament to the trials and triumphs of such pressures.


    For one, singer, lead songwriter and unofficial head-of-state
    Jeff Tweedy, formally known only as a musician and a poet, has now
    become, quite publicly, a drug addict. It isn’t terribly surprising,
    but it’s no less painful, especially if you’ve seen the 2001
    documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,
    which charts the migraine-inducing band tension that led to Tweedy’s
    painkiller abuse. His early-April stint in rehab led to cancelled tour
    dates and a delayed album release.

    And yes, there is much in A Ghost is Born to suggest
    symptoms of drastic lineup changes and having documentary footage of
    you vomiting marketed all over the Sam Goody planet. Numbers like “Hell
    is Chrome” and “Less Than You Think” are brutal in their tight-lipped,
    minimalism — songs for a man who keeps his migraine eyes shut tight
    against the sun’s rays. Tweedy paints a gray world where “your mind’s a
    machine,” people are “buried in sound,” and hell “welcome[s] with open

    But then there’s Tweedy’s Telecaster. If much of Ghost sounds like 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
    compacted into stainless steel — the drums grip-lock tight, the bass
    throbbing, the keyboards cold and dense — Tweedy’s redemptive guitar
    is the glint on its shiny surface. With former lead guitarist Jay
    Bennett gone, Tweedy is left alone to cuts ragged glory through
    extended tunes like “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” and “Handshake Drugs.” On the
    opener, the Neil Young ode “At Least That’s What You Said,” Tweedy’s
    tortured six-string answers his lover with five minutes of squeaks and
    squalls — a solo that’s harrowing purely in its willingness to
    embarrass everyone in the room.

    The road to rehab is a long one, as is the round to rock stardom. But thankfully, A Ghost is Born
    isn’t about designer drugs, one-night stands or record company
    manipulation; it’s about having a rough time of it and getting the hell
    through it. In “Handshake Drugs,” Tweedy could be any one of us,
    shifty-eyed and loaded on the wrong side of town. But with his band,
    he’s got a way out and an amp to plug into.