Striving for the Pot of Gold

A Ghost is Born (Nonesuch)
Wilco

By John Bohannon

Depression, anxiety, drug rehab and band turmoil: It all fits together like some average rock band cliché. Every now and again a band comes along that defeats the odds; Jeff Tweedy and the gang did just that. In the past months, Tweedy has been through rehab and multi-instrumentalist genius Jay Bennett left the band soon after the release of their last album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. What else could be thrown Wilco's way? The expectation of another great album was being tossed right in their faces, but they succeeded in impressing everyone once again with another masterpiece in A Ghost is Born - with its ups and downs of course.

Even after all the problems the band has had, it managed to get it together and get back together in NYC with producer Jim O'Rourke to do what it does best: create music. The new album shines in its own inimitable way from the previous Wilco albums. As the conceptual ways of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot seem to have faded, A Ghost is Born delivers great efforts but doesn't seem to climb out in front of previous records - it just seems to convoy them.

Wilco found plenty of ways to replace former co-songwriter Jay Bennett. On the opening track, "At Least That's What You Said," when addition Leroy Bach steps in on the piano composition, Mr. Tweedy takes over the lead guitar position, ripping some chops that sound as if they're being yanked off a Neil Young and Crazy Horse album. Tweedy's peculiar songwriting shines during the piano masterpiece "Hell is Chrome" when he sings so hauntingly, "When the devil came/he was not red/He was chrome and he said/Come with me." Alt-country tune "Muzzle of Bees" lets Wilco's roots stand out through the picking of the acoustic guitar, down-beat organ melodies and nature-inspired lyrics such as "Sun gets passed from sea to sea/silently/with a breeze blown through/pushed up against the sea/finally back to me."

The album progresses along, but there are problems that lie within. A lack of creativity is evident enough on a few tracks. "Hummingbird," which is by far the most pop-worthy track on the album, sounds good enough to be handed to the Billboard Top 40. "Theologians" lacks the musical tone, but the lyrics are some of Tweedy's best to date and "The Late Greats" is just a bit too lengthy. They all give off the same pop vibe - not exactly a bad thing but they all begin to run together after a while.

You can still make a valid argument that Wilco is one of the legendary bands to come along in the new generation. The band's decade-long career has proved it capable, but have these guys really hit the jackpot yet? They're definitely sitting on the rainbow, but that pot of gold still appears out of reach.