Click here to return to the Shaking Through Home Page


  Shaking WWW


 Archive Home | Movies | Music | Books | Comics | Editorial


Music Archives: Most Recent | Highest Rated | Alphabetical | Highest Rated 2006

Holy Ghost


Wilco: A Ghost is Born

Nonesuch, 2004

Rating: 3.6



Posted: June 22, 2004

By Laurence Station

If you're a true believer when you die and there's no place for your soul to go, what happens then? What becomes of your spirit while your corporeal remains decay? Perhaps a ghost is born, confused and frustrated by an afterlife that's not what he or she expected. Or, to quote Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, something that's considerably "less than you think." A Ghost is Born, Wilco's fifth album, challenges putting all of our everlasting eggs in one theological basket. The repercussions, after all, are fairly dramatic, whether one's faith is rewarded or was ill-spent on a belief system that simply doesn't pay off with eternally enriching dividends. At the end of the day, we have each other, for better or worse, and, perhaps, that's where the majority of our faith and energy should be directed.

A Ghost is Born is neither the most musically satisfying Wilco album nor the most lyrically impressive. It is, however, the strangest, most intentionally difficult (in terms of sequencing) record the adventurous Chicago-based rock band has made. It's not a sequel to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, though many elements of that rigorously assembled mosaic remain (renowned avant-rock producer Jim O'Rourke mixed both albums). There are traces of Summerteeth's dark pop (the wonderful "Hummingbird," which sounds terribly out of place amidst the meatier assemblage) and even pre-Being There acoustic toss-offs (the closing "The Late Greats," which champions the greatest imaginary band ever). But mostly, A Ghost is Born is a collection of muscular, guitar-driven rock songs that wrestle with questions of faith (in one's self, in one's God, in one's relationships, in one's future -- well, you get the idea). Though its sum may be less than its parts, that doesn't mean there aren't some very good parts to hear.

Leroy Bach's delicate piano contrasts nicely with Jim O'Rourke's discordant chords on "At Least That's What You Said," a slow-cooked opener that deals with a couple's post-fight fallout. Here, lead singer/songwriter Tweedy gestures back and turns the tables on his male counterpart from Summerteeth's "She's a Jar" ("You know she begs me / Not to hit her") with the telling lines "I thought it was cute / For you to kiss / My purple black-eye / Even though I caught it from you." A more polished, less hangdog version of "Handshake Drugs" (which originally appeared on the More Like the Moon EP last year) looks to others for approval ("Exactly what do you want me to be?"). "Wishful Thinking" sporting some moodily effective organ, rhetorically asks "Is any song worth singing / If it doesn't help?"

That kind of doubt permeates A Ghost is Born, with Tweedy saving his most penetrating questions for matters of faith. "Hell Is Chrome" examines the lesser angels of our nature, finding comfort in a company of devilish hosts ("I was welcomed with open arms / I received so much help in every way"). The near eleven-minute "Spiders (Kidsmoke)," powered by a hypnotic, Krautrock-indebted "motorik" beat, ponders salvation for the apathetic adherent ("I'll be in my bed / You can be the stone / That raises from the dead / And carries us all home"). Elsewhere, Tweedy confronts "Theologians" ("They don't know nothing / About my soul") and their presumptive attempts at teasing reason from faith ("Where I'm going you cannot come").

The penultimate "Less Than You Think" starts off as a beautiful, three-minute piano-based charmer ("It's almost gone / The night is dissolving / In a cup God lifts to toast the lightning") that deftly addresses the issue of a personal relationship with a higher power as opposed to a formal religious doctrine's interpretation of the supreme being. Unfortunately, the last twelve minutes of the song are filled with noise-for-noise's-sake noodling that sounds as if Jim O'Rourke mixed it at the bottom of Lake Michigan. If this was the last track on the album, it wouldn't be so bad, but it's intentionally been sequenced to subvert the listener's expectations of what and how an album should be constructed. Point well taken, but it severely breaks the flow of the record when you have to manually jump to the next song.

Despite being one of the weaker albums Wilco has released, A Ghost is Born is nonetheless the most fascinating. It tackles deeper issues and plays with dissonant noise in an aggressive and daring (though not entirely successful) manner. As a concept album, it falls short of its mark by including too much unrelated filler (the insipid "Company In My Back"). Musically, it's messily all over the place, though it sports some of the best (if indulgent) guitar work the band's yet recorded, and Tweedy's lyrics, despite flashes of brilliance, are mostly obvious and uninspired. Chroniclers of Wilco's career may well look back on A Ghost is Born as a key, transitory point in the band's history. Whether that transition is toward a heavenly ascent or hellish decline remains to be written.

Site design copyright © 2001-2011 Shaking All original artwork, photography and text used on this site is the sole copyright of the respective creator(s)/author(s). Reprinting, reposting, or citing any of the original content appearing on this site without the written consent of Shaking is strictly forbidden.



 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

Archived Reviews

Most Recent

Highest Rated



Best Of Lists: All

Rox Populi: (Latest) (Archives)

Halftime Reports