Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Super Deluxe Edition) Music Album Reviews

Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Super Deluxe Edition) Music Album Reviews
A sprawling new box set full of demos and alternate takes suggests a dazzling array of paths the Chicago group might have taken on their masterpiece.

There’s an alternate universe where Wilco released their fourth album on Warner/Reprise as planned, got good reviews, landed on a few year-end lists, toured slightly bigger venues, and that’s it. They continued being a midlevel rock band rather than one of the most revered rock bands of the 21st century, which is what they did in our universe. And there’s another plane of existence where they broke up before that fourth album was even released, where both Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett became casualties of the pills they were popping in the studio. That means there’s also a world where Son Volt became the foremost chroniclers of modern American life.

In retrospect, everything about Yankee Hotel Foxtrot feels astonishingly precarious. It’s an album that inspires endless what-ifs: What if it hadn’t been very good, or what if it had been extremely good but not in a way that captured the imaginations of so many listeners? What if Jim O’Rourke had been too busy to take Tweedy’s phone call and never connected them with Glenn Kotche or mixed the final album? What if Nonesuch had passed on the record, robbing us of the satisfying narrative that Wilco made Warner pay for the album twice? What if streaming it on their website had depleted sales rather than boosted them? What if a national tragedy hadn’t immediately given the music more gravity and relevance than even Wilco could have dreamed? Every hypothetical represents a new universe, a new world of possibilities.

But we live in this world, where all those decisions and actions aligned to make Yankee Hotel Foxtrot one of the defining rock albums of the 2000s. Twenty years along, we get this curious reissue, which provides evidence that Wilco have been thinking about all those what-ifs and possible Wilcoverses, too. When they boxed up their previous two albums, the band reveled in its fraught relationship with pop music as both profession and obsession, and it presented those albums as self-contained three-act plays: writing the songs and making demos, recording and assembling the final tracklist, and finally touring the album and letting the music live on its own. The Yankee Hotel Foxtrot anniversary set, however—in particular the massive 11xLP version—rejects that dramatic structure. Instead of presenting a story of gestation, birth, and life, the band offers alternatives: the album as it might have been, the album as it almost was, the album as it exists on different planes.

On the deluxe editions, Wilco have arranged all the usual demos and outtakes and radio interviews and live performances into different albums representing different sets of possibilities and outcomes, each with its own evocative title. There’s American Aquarium, rawer and weirder yet still mired in the pop palette of Summerteeth. There’s Here Comes Everybody, darker and slightly more caustic. There’s Lonely in the Deep End, which sounds like they’ve opened the door to an overstuffed closet: a tumble and crash of ideas. These iterations aren’t merely points on a timeline leading to a familiar destination; the creative process was far too messy for such a neat trajectory. Instead, they demonstrate that nothing about Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was ever settled, not even its title. Even elements of the more modest 7xLP set (which includes the American Aquarium version) and 2xLP release (which presents the familiar songs in remastered form) gesture toward the album’s mutability.

It’s a fascinating idea, especially for this album in particular, given how thoroughly and painstakingly the band pored over every song, every lyric, every note. “Kamera” sounds especially shaky, each version a completely different snapshot of the same vista. On American Aquarium it opens with a dramatic drum fanfare that plainly recalls Phil Spector, before launching into a measured gallop. It’s all build, no payoff. They deleted everything and started fresh on Here Comes Everybody, with keyboards like a barrelhouse harpsichord and a more insistent beat that taunts Tweedy. And then there’s the version on The Unified Theory of Everything that replaces it all with a fuzzed-out guitar and has Tweedy singing like he’s fronting that local band from “Heavy Metal Drummer.” What would have happened if the band had stopped with one of them instead of reinventing the song a few more times?

That precariousness once clung to the album, which is perhaps why it was greeted with such enthusiasm, and even reverence, 20 years ago. The band was splintering, with longtime drummer Ken Coomer unceremoniously dismissed and Bennett playing a bigger role. There were new faces (Kotche, O’Rourke) and new challenges, most of which had to do with drugs. On some level we must have understood that the record came unfathomably close to not existing, at least not in this form, and the music on our version of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot conveys that sense of almost wasn’t. We’re fortunate in this universe, because Wilco found a way to make their dogged explorations enhance rather than obscure the humanity in these songs. It’s a bleak album, certainly. When Tweedy sings about getting money out of an ATM to buy “Diet Coca-Cola and unlit cigarettes” (does anyone sell lit cigarettes?), the moment still sounds like a monumental sigh. When he sings about watching a heavy metal band take the stage “on the landing in the summer,” the memory still resonates with warmth and wonder. And when he sings about assassining down the avenue, it’s still just as confounding as ever. (Hearing him sing “I assassinate the avenue” on the American Aquarium version of the song doesn’t clear anything up.)

All of these different iterations of the same thing coalesce into a bold statement of uncertainty, a clear-headed portrayal of confusion, a joyful depiction of despair—all contradictions that make the music more relatable, more immersive, more malleable. This anniversary set is also a reminder that the album has become more settled over time, thanks to Sam Jones’ documentary, Greg Kot’s book, Tweedy’s book, and countless reviews, profiles, and interviews. It has become familiar, perhaps comfortingly so—a reminder of a time in America that in retrospect appears quaintly fucked up. The Sound Opinions interview, recorded just after 9/11, is not only a compelling artifact, but a demonstration of how Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was already out of the band’s control. There’s a very specific weariness in Tweedy’s voice that’ll be familiar to anyone who lived through that day, and Wilco play these songs on air like they no longer recognize the things they’ve created. This anniversary box set pushes the album back off its axis. The music wobbles again, reminding us that unease and confusion were its most relatable aspects.

If Being There understood rock to be a fool’s errand and if Summerteeth presented rock as a fool’s consolation, then our Yankee Hotel Foxtrot shows how we fools (not just Tweedy, but you and me, too) desperately want music to reflect the world back to us. Even in those magical moments when a pop song does offer us a glimpse of something larger, it’s never enough. We want it to order the world, to make everything make sense, to throw senseless tragedies into reassuring relief. Music can’t do that. The world—not just this one, but each of the infinite other what-if worlds—is too gloriously, damnably messy for one band or one album or one song to capture. The world thwarts art, yet it’s all we have so we make do. That kernel of sadness and frustration persists in every universe and in every version of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Super Deluxe Edition) Music Album Reviews Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Super Deluxe Edition) Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on October 01, 2022 Rating: 5


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