Wilco: A Ghost Is Born (2004)



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Wilco
A Ghost Is Born
2004; Nonesuch Records

My Rating: 6/10

I’m probably beginning to sound like a broken record, but I just think this way. To me, Wilco’s recording career shares a strange correlation with Radiohead’s. That continues with their fifth album, A GHOST IS BORN. If YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT was WILCO’s KID A, then yes, this is WILCO’s AMNESIAC. It’s not just that GHOST’s experimentalism seems a bit tried after the resounding avant masterpiece YHF – it’s that, at this point, the band seems to be grasping for great ideas rather than letting the joy of making music lead to inspiration.

That being said, I do want to say that A GHOST IS BORN contains some startlingly great songs. “Muzzle of Bees,” “Company in My Back,” “The Late Greats” – all of these have become live staples for Wilco and for good reason. They are fantastic songs. Similarly, “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” is an adventurous kraut-rock experiment that just rules. It’s one of my favorite Wilco tracks, even at close to eleven minutes. However, there are an equal number of disappointments. “At Least That’s What You Said” is the worst opener in Wilco’s catalog, and “Hell Is Chrome” just drags a little too much. And “Handshake Drugs”, though certainly a highlight in Wilco’s catalogue, is a little too cleaned up here compared to the earlier, superior version on the MORE LIKE THE MOON EP.

Additionally, A GHOST IS BORN contains what is probably the low point in Wilco’s career, the 2-minute song plus 11 minutes of white noise, the inexplicable no matter how hard you try to spin it as art, “Less Than You Think.” The song itself doesn’t even warrant inclusion, and its only redeeming quality may be that it allowed Tweedy to get a few records full of completely obtuse avant-garde nonsense out of his system. But that’s as harsh as I’m going to be on Wilco, band that I love. Regardless of what you could say about this, it is still a WILCO record, and that fact alone makes it enjoyable.

A GHOST IS BORN represents WILCO’s attempt to top itself once again. Given that, it’s daunting to best a masterpiece. Five albums into a stellar career, it became apparent that they were trying a little too hard to reinvent themselves this time around. Being a WILCO record it contains several great songs, but overall GHOST comes off sounding like the band’s mid-life crisis. Thank God they managed to come out of it alive, for there were brighter horizons awaiting the band.

I recommend A GHOST IS BORN only for WILCO die-hards and completists. Many of GHOST’s tracks can be found in superior form on the live record KICKING TELEVISION.

Tracks:
1. At Least That’s What You Said (3/5)
2. Hell Is Chrome (2.5/5)
3. Spiders (Kidsmoke) (5/5)
4. Muzzle of Bees (5/5)
5. Hummingbird (4/5)
6. Handshake Drugs (3.5/5)
7. Company in My Back (4/5)
8. Wishful Thinking (4/5)
9. I’m a Wheel (2/5)
10. Theologians (2.5/5)
11. Less Than You Think (1/5)
12. The Late Greats (4/5)

Tracks:
1. At Least That’s What You Said (3/5)
2. Hell Is Chrome (2.5/5)
3. Spiders (Kidsmoke) (5/5)
4. Muzzle of Bees (5/5)
5. Hummingbird (4/5)
6. Handshake Drugs (3.5/5)
7. Company in My Back (4/5)
8. Wishful Thinking (4/5)
9. I’m a Wheel (2/5)
10. Theologians (2.5/5)
11. Less Than You Think (1/5)
12. The Late Greats (4/5)

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4 Responses to Wilco: A Ghost Is Born (2004)

  1. Nick says:

    Wow, this post is rubbish. (Sorry)

    Wilco is definately not trying to “Grasp for great idea’s”.

    And this album is great, and definately not as bad as you say it is. I would listen to the album more closely if i were you. You mind find that i’m right after all.

    This album for only Wilco “die-hards” and “completists”…. Hoenstly, you’ve got it all wrong. “A ghost is born” was my first Wilco album, and it is really fantastic. Readers, I think you’ll find there are many positive review on this album, and if you listen to it yourself, you’ll probably hear the truth, that this album is fantatic.

    All respect for the writer, but he’s wrong (Not only in my opinion, but in many others).

    I suggest re-thinking and re-listening.

    Thanks, Nick

  2. John says:

    Hey Nick, thanks for the comment. I do recognize that A GHOST IS BORN is on many “Best of the Decade” lists out there, and I don’t hate the album myself, but in my ears there has always been something lacking. I think the recording sounds a little constricted, and the best songs here all seem better represented elsewhere. “Handshake Drugs” is a good example. I love the lo-fi quality of the MORE LIKE THE MOON version, and it sounds sanitized here.

    Anyway, it’s great to hear a contrary opinion! Keep em coming!

  3. Nick says:

    Hahahaha. I had no idea of the the “Best of the Deacade” lists. Yea, Handshake Drugs is awesome. I do see your point though. Esspecially with songs like “Wishful thinking”. I always skip to the middle of the song.

    Thankyou

    Nick

  4. Nick says:

    Actually, sorry, I lied. I don’t really see your point. hahahaha lol.

    byeeeee

    Nick

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