Wilco's first three albums each had a distinct personality of their own as the band (and their leader, Jeff Tweedy) were quite literally figuring out what they were going to be as they went along: 1995's A.M. was a direct extension of the music Tweedy and his bandmates were making in Uncle Tupelo, 1996's Being There was a wildly diverse dive into a number of new musical possibilities, and 1999's Summerteeth was the point where Tweedy's collaboration with keyboardist Jay Bennett came to dominate their sound and personality. With 2002's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco hit another turning point, where the Tweedy-Bennett partnership at once reached its peak and came crashing down. The departure of drummer Ken Coomer in the earliest stages of the recording and the more artful and exploratory approach of new percussionist Glenn Kotche certainly made a difference, as did the decision to record the LP at Wilco's own rehearsal space, giving them the time and the latitude to experiment with different sounds and approaches at length. As the sessions went on, the emotionally difficult undertow of Summerteeth became a more obvious presence in these songs, and the music took on a beauty and personality that was the work of a band torn between anxiety, hope, and a powerful belief in the emotional force of music. While the very public controversy in which Warner Bros. rejected the album, making it a cause célèbre in the media, certainly helped Yankee Hotel Foxtrot gain a hearing among people who previously didn't follow the band, this would have been a major creative triumph for Wilco regardless of how it appeared. Tweedy's songs are strikingly open-hearted and revealing, whether he's wrestling with anxieties ("Ashes of American Flags"), celebrating the sheer pleasure of music ("Heavy Metal Drummer"), or baring his heart and soul to the world ("Reservations"). And the arrangements and production make this a unique and powerful listening experience, with layers of sonic atmosphere coloring the melodies and complementing the outstanding performances from the band. More than one rag declared that Wilco was "the American Radiohead" in the wake of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but the album was a powerfully original, deeply revealing work that was beholden to no one and erased all doubt that Wilco were one of the best and most imaginative groups of their time.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Review
by Mark Deming