Sunday, May 6, 2012

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot At 10

I've previously written that Wilco is one of the truly great rock bands and their front man, Jeff Tweedy, is the most compelling singer/songwriter of his generation.  (See Wilco Rocks -- And Not Just For Dads.)

Tweedy is an elegant lyricist who crafts deeply effecting, unsparingly honest songs, often about pain and loss, self-doubt and self-destruction, and sings them with his nasally but soulful and quite captivating voice.  I don't think it is too much of a stretch to consider putting him in the pantheon of older (North) American rock musicians who have not only captured the spirit of their time but have left a legacy well beyond, a group that includes Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is now ten years old, but it remains for me one of the greatest rock 'n roll albums of all time.  As the notoriously stingy Pitchfork beams:  "Complex and dangerously catchy, lyrically sophisticated and provocative, noisy and somehow serene" it is "simply a masterpiece."

Spencer Kornhaber recently wrote a piece in the Atlantic to commemorate the tenth anniversary of this legendary album, what he refers to as the "best rock record of the new millennium."  As Kornhaber writes, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot comes freighted with a mythology that can overwhelm the music:
The way it was rejected by one Warner Bros. subsidiary only to be bought by another; the fact that it was streamed online at a time when doing so was unheard of; the acclaimed documentary about its creation; and the spookiness of the fact that its songs—replete with references to falling buildings, charred flags, and nameless dread—were originally set for a Sept. 11, 2001 release.
 But it is the music that endures:
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot's triumph was in how it captured a facet of human nature: the way we all send signals, hoping that someone will understand them but also anxious about what happens when someone does. You'll sometimes hear the album get called cryptic, or self-conscious, or difficult. And that's fine. It's really a soundtrack for the ways in which people ask to be misunderstood. 
Don't believe me?  Check it out:


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