'Yankee hotel foxtrot' by Wilco
by Ian Simmons
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Wilco are a band I find deeply problematic. I feel I really ought to like them and try very hard to enjoy their stuff. But somehow I just can't bring myself to truly get into what they do. Every album of theirs I've heard seems almost very good. You get the feeling their next album could be wonderful, but it never is. You are willing them to make the sort of breakthrough REM did with 'Green', but so far it hasn't happened - they still fall short of glory. 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' does it once again. The album is full of perfectly reasonable quite pleasant songs, delivered in a competent enough manner. It is all very workman-like, but far too laboured for its own good. Jeff Tweedy has a superb voice, but he strains away, over-emoting throughout instead of modulating himself to greater effect. The rest of the band throw all they've got into everything with curiously little result. The presence at the controls of Sonic Youth member and hardest working man in experimental music Jim O'Rourke suggests possibilities for interesting culture clash, but apart from the opener "I'm Trying to Break Your Heart", he seems to have little of himself to put into the proceedings. This track sounds somewhat forced, and there is an uneasy compromise between O'Rourke's production and Wilco's values. They are, essentially, too inflexible for any true synergy to emerge, and for the rest of the album O'Rourke amuses himself by suffocating the band under a retro 70s AOR sheen which further blands out their already monochrome sound.
Despite their constantly unfulfilled promise of better things in the future, I guess Wilco are maybe the US equivalent of bands such as Travis or Starsailor. Solid plodders harking back to the sounds of the past and content to stay that way. Wilco at least seem to promise better, but bands of this ilk usually make me furious. I am of an age when I should be looking at modern music with bafflement - griping about how we had proper music when I was young and how the new stuff is just noise. To people of my age current bands should look like aliens and sound like someone gralloching a cat, but no, they look like the more boring people I was at school with and sound like polite versions of support bands at the Croydon Greyhound in 1974. Wilco could yet shake themselves free of this swamp of retro mediocrity, but I'm not holding my breath any more.