Yankee Hotel Foxtrot


album cover

Art Beats the Business

The story of this album is just too good not to tell. Even if you've heard it a zillion times, and know every parry and thrust of the struggle between Earnest Rock Band and Evil Megacorp, there's something heartwarming about how it ends up. It's the extremely rare victory for art over the craven greed that so often rules the music business.

Veteran band (Wilco) turns in a rousing, challenging new album. Evil Record Company (Reprise) is not so roused, and suggests changes, among them the inclusion of a "single" the band has somehow overlooked. Band says, "See ya." Legal wrangling ensues. Eventually the band breaks free, and sends the challenging music to other labels. Several are interested, and when said album (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) appears on Nonesuch, which, ironically, is owned by the same big conglomerate that owns Reprise, it's met with nearly universal critical raves. Though it's been available as a free download for months, it becomes a commercial success, making the evil label look colossally stupid.

Even without all the drama, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is notable—it's the album where principal songwriter Jeff Tweedy's art sprouts new dimensions. A tunesmith who, as part of Uncle Tupelo (see p. 795), developed distinctive approaches to front-porch country-folk and snarling rock, Tweedy pushes past what worked for him on previous projects. He discovers not one new voice, but several. His declarative love songs ("I'm the Man Who Loves You") cut straight to the chase in an almost uncomfortably vulnerable way; then, on songs like "Kamera," his images float around in a cloudy upper atmosphere, supported by blips and radio static (the album's title is derived from shortwave lingo) and planks of droning guitar dissonance.

Tweedy's inspired by these startling sounds, so much so that he rhapsodizes on several songs about music as a great elixir—it's a "Radio Cure" for loneliness, or the speediest way to "turn your orbit around." Individually or en masse, the songs on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and the even more adventurous follow-up, A Ghost Is Born, do exactly that.

Genre: Rock
Released: 2002, Nonesuch
Key Tracks: "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," "Radio Cure," "Jesus, Etc.," "War on War"
Catalog Choice: Summerteeth; A Ghost Is Born
Next Stop: Joe Henry: Short Man's Room
After That: The Arcade Fire: Funeral
Book Pages: 860–861

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#1 from Grant - 05/20/2009 7:33

I like a couple of songs in this album especially the Radio Cure.

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