Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

One of the best albums of 2001 is finally getting released almost a year after it was completed. It’s well worth the wait. Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot emerges after an amicable split between the band and its label Reprise. When asked by Reprise to make changes, Wilco declined. Instead, the band not only got out of its contract – it took the unusual step of buying back its master recordings for $50,000. Wilco’s leader Jeff Tweedy shopped the songs around before they were picked up by Nonesuch Records.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot picks up where Summerteeth left off. It’s another pop album, rather than the alt-country of previous works, but it goes a step further with its expansive, eclectic styles. The album opens with the forlorn “I am Trying to Break Your Heart,” a song that features a swirling cacophony of distortion, feedback guitar, keyboards, and bells. Tweedy’s distinctive voice cracks and breaks when he delivers despairing lyrics such as, “I always thought that if I held you tightly / You’d always love me like you did back then.”
He segues from the up-tempo “Kamera,” which is reminiscent of Elliot Smith, to the raw, emotional, dirge-like “Radio Cure,” which builds in tempo. The Beatlesque “Heavy Metal Drummer” combines synthesizers and maracas in a snappy drum beat. The song describes an innocent time past when the band was, “Playing Kiss covers / Beautiful and stoned.”
You have to wonder when you hear songs like “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” with its heavy lead guitar, strumming acoustic rhythm, and horn section, why the suits at Reprise had a problem with this album. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was mixed by Jim O’Rourke, the musician, producer, and experimental mastermind behind dozens of groups, including Sonic Youth and Stereolab.
The album is one that may need more than one listen before it gets hold of you. That’s because the band isn’t limiting itself to one sound. It wants to keep moving forward. Maybe Tweedy wants to shake that alt-country label that he helped create while he was with the seminal band, Uncle Tupelo. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, like Summerteeth before it, takes a brave creative stance. The new sparse sound delivers a lyrical blow. Wilco won’t be pigeon-holed – like any true artist. Their risk has paid off artistically, but will it pay off financially?