Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is ten years old today. How time flies! I remember them putting on a fantastic and edgy show in Dublin’s Ambassador to promote the album. It was the final appearance of the sarky side of Jeff Tweedy on these shores, and boy was he in a sarcastic mood that night. Today’s Jeff is healthy, an enthusiastic runner, optimistic, and generally good humoured. Wilco are still putting on excellent live shows even if they do seem to have sacrificed a bit of feel with an increased emphasis on musicianship. They aren’t quite a modern day version of Steely Dan but sometimes they aren’t far off it.
The strength of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot always seemed to be how it played as a unit as opposed to the individual quality of the songs. Sure, they’re fine songs, and Heavy Metal Drummer will always be one of my favourites but, that song apart, I’m not sure there is anything on it to rival some of the high points on A.M., Being There, or Summerteeth. In fact, some of the individual tracks on A Ghost is Born seem to stand out more on their own in a live setting when put up against those from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
Wilco had begun to move away from their Americana roots on 1999’s Summerteeth and on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot sounded like a band who had more in common with Eno, Bowie, Reznor, and Nite Flights-era Scott Walker than the band that emerged from the ashes of Uncle Tupelo. The critics and fans loved it and lauded it as their finest album so far. It may be pushing it to state that this was a perfect instance of rock ‘n’ roll groupthink, but it was close enough.
It would be interesting to know what Jay Farrar, Tweedy’s other half in Uncle Tupelo, made of it all. Farrar’s career post Uncle Tupelo has been nowhere near as commercially successful as Tweedy’s. While he has made some interesting diversions along the way with Sebastapol (2001) and Terroir Blues (2003), he has never veered too far away from the source. Son Volt’s Trace (1995) remains my favourite of any of the albums either songwriter has produced since the demise of Uncle Tupelo, and as much as I enjoyed Wilco’s recent offering, The Whole Love (2011), it doesn’t touch Son Volt’s American Central Dust (2009), Farrar’s finest since Trace.