For Diehard Fans and those with Time to Kill...
Originally released last summer, A Ghost Is Born is a well produced, slice of easy listening that soothes out of the speakers from the background of a dinner party, and would offend about as much as Mother Theresa would, if of course she was still alive. Backed with a bonus CD this time around, which includes acceptable live versions of 'At Least That's What You Said', 'The Late Greats' and 'Handshake Drugs', as well as two unreleased tracks - the thoughtful 'Panthers' and the more rocking 'Kicking Television', it's only the diehard fans that will find this worth buying again.
Sonic Youth's Jim O'Rouke is once again on knob-twiddling duties, and his hard efforts only fail by producing a sound that is too polished and clean, and for me this is the real problem. All the blood, sweat and tears have been wiped away.
Wilco's singer/songwriter and former member of alternative/country mavericks Uncle Tupelo, writes insightful lyrics that, for the most part, are to gentle and beautiful songs. These have random themes that could well come from the mind of either a real dreamer, or an indulgent of hallucinogenic substances. Third song 'Spiders' (Kidsmoke) starts of with the lyrics "Spiders are singing in the salty breeze/Spiders are filling in tax returns/spinning out webs of deductions and melodies/On a private beach in Michigan". Not since Alice Cooper's chilling song 'Black Widow' have the arachnids had such a prominent position in a song, however 'Spiders' has a four minute intro which was frankly a waste of time and could've cut the song duration down to a meagre 6 minutes instead of the 10 minutes, that we have here! Layered with synthesisers and electronic beats, it's only when the harshly pounding piano notes gatecrash, do we have any real strong rhythm.
Right from the first few bars of the piano and the flow of the first line of lyrics, 'Hummingbird' grabs your attention and demands you to listen to the well crafted words whilst tapping your foot and making the all too obvious comparisons to the late and great John Lennon.
There are the now familiar ingredients in 'Muzzle Of Bees', 'Handshake Drugs', and 'Wishful Thinking', of slow pianos, creative lyrics and the odd string instrument. Only eighth track 'Company On My Back' takes on a slightly different stance with leanings towards The Eels. 'I'm A Wheel' is a great song that shows that Wilco can rock, although standing out like a Slayer fan at a rave on this album, it starts with loud thumping drums, and simple lyrics of which I'd have to conclude sounds like a Pixies song sung by Beck.
There is another couple of mediocre, though highly experimental twists on the aforementioned popular musical ingredients, which includes 'Less Than You Think', a song so long that you may wonder whether or not you've missed your birthday when it's finally over. For me 15 minutes is a period of fame given to everyone, and not time wasted listening to a song that after 3 minutes turns into bizarre collection of sounds, and I wonder if the singer has fallen asleep, and little pixies are committing tomfoolery in and around in the studio...
Last song 'The Late Greats' has them hanging onto those past country roots and is the best thigh-slapping song here. The electronic experimental sounds have been cast aside for simple instruments, slight honkie-tonk and catchy lyrics that sound like a dream to the folks in Middle America. It's good to try things new but an album full of songs like 'The Late Greats' would hold more of an impression than an album full of slow plodding, hard thinking ballads.
With A Ghost Is Born, Wilco have taken a step back from their previous offering, the much more rounded affair of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and have gone back to sounding a little more like their second album Being There. This is a patchy album of a handful of styles, possibly suggesting that although the band wishes to evolve, they know not what or where they are going.