Doing your own thing your own way and still sounding spookin brilliant? Doug
Johnstone surmises that if you’re WILCO, it just comes naturally.
he story behind Wilco’s last album. Yankee
Hotel foxtrot. is fast becoming legend and is a
perfect parable for the current vacuity and short-sightedness so prevalent amongst major record labels today.
After three acclaimed and successful albums the band. based around the enigmatic presence of singer and songwriter Jeff Tweedy. set about making a groundbreaking. experimental and daring record. 011 hearing Yankee Hotel Foxtrot the band‘s label Reprise decided they weren‘t interested in putting it out. No hit singles. you see. Despite Christ knows how many years in the business and an already solid reputation. Wilco were cut adrift.
Did they mope about? Did they fuck. Instead they gave away the album free over the internet and the resulting surge in interest in them saw a host of labels flocking back to their door — including Reprise. tail between legs. Instead Wilco signed to another Warner offshoot. Nonesuch. squeezing more money out of it in the process. They also, against all perceived wisdom. continued to give the music away for free. Nevertheless. it charted spectacularly on its release thanks to fan loyalty. and has gone on to sell umpteen times more than their previous records.
It‘s a symbolic victory for the music makers over the stupid suits. and it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving bunch than Wilco. Jeff Tweedy is nothing less than a musical visionary. from his early days alongside Jay Farrar in Uncle Tupelo (the band that defined alternative country) to Wilco‘s brand new fifth album. A Ghost Is Born.
That record was released a couple of weeks ago but fans will already be familiar with it because the band have again been giving it away free on their website
CONFUSION AND INSECURITY STALK THE MUSIC OF WILCO AS THEY DO TWEEDY HIMSELF
for months. accepting contributions for the Doctors Without Frontiers charity (over 810.000 and counting) from generous fans for the privilege. Just another example of the attitude that makes Wilco so precious.
It‘s hard to describe what Wilco sound like these days. Their early records were still infused with a kind of ragged country glory. like Neil Young with his Crazy Horse on a very good day. but with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and now A Ghost is Born there are whispers of everything from avant garde art rock to 70s American glam. tortured torch songs. Beatlesy pop and strung-out punk ire in there. Throughout it all. though. is a beautifully rich seam of melody and some of the most strikingly intelligent lyricism in modern rock (Tweedy has. in fact. had a collection of poetry published in the States).
To a certain extent the record is a reaction to the dense sonic landscapes of its predecessor despite a return to the production helm of now full-time Sonic Youther Jim O‘Rourke. A Ghost is Born was recorded mostly live in one take. and the organic feel of tracks such as ‘Handshake Drugs’ and the sprawling clatter of ‘Spiders (Kidsmoke) is intensely compelling.
But it‘s no easy ride. Confusion and insecurity stalk the music of Wilco as they do Tweedy himself. Having suffered from migraines. depression and panic attacks his whole adult life. Tweedy went into rehab after the completion of the new record. strung out on migraine pills and other medication. and in a terrible state. It‘s a testament to the man's strength of character that he has since embarked on the biggest Wilco tour in years. and is by all accounts really enjoying the experience.
The word genius is used far too often in music. but I‘m going to do it anyway. Wilco are genius.
QMU, Glasgow, Tue 13 Jul.
All the fudges, grud es and lipstick smudges in he wonderful world of music.
CH-CH-CH-CH-ANGES (SORRY, we couldn’t resist). There’s been a few at T in the Park as we know. Bowie’s off, so are Alﬁe, but don’t fret as Buck 65, Black Light, Colour of Fire, the Crimea, Drug of the Nation and, of course, the Charlatans are all in. See our feature on the Pixies and full line-up on page 12 for all the details. On the T on the Fringe front Har Mar Superstar, the Datsuns and Edwyn Collins have been added to the bill and My Morning Jacket have pulled out. TOTF, alongside the Celtic Festival with Shane McGowan and Tigerfest starring Sluts of Trust and the Fence Collective folks, means Edinburgh in August is looking pretty good musicwise.
THIS IS A STATEMENT FROM A promoter that we found so funny (and honest) that we had to print it in full for you . . . ‘You can’t keep a bad man down it seems. DMX will be back in Glasgow on 20 July to play the Carling Academy. The original date had to be cancelled due to a small skirmish involving a stolen car, crack cocaine and impersonation of a federal officer.‘ Can't say fairer than that. can you?
WIN MOLOKO DVDS!
7 7,000 Clicks is the brand new DVD from Moloko. The DVD is released by Sanctuary Visual Entertainment on 26 July and tells the stOry of the band's mammoth world tour which was filmed in London last December. We have five copies to give away, and all you have to do if you want to get your hands on a copy is send us an email entitled ‘Moloko Competition' to email@example.com with your name and address on it. If you're truly old school then send a postcard to: ‘Moloko Competition', The List, 14 High Street. Edinburgh. EH1 1TE. Closing date is Thursday 22 July.
8—22 Jul 2001 THE LIST 45