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Wilco - A Ghost is Born (2004)

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By Tom Johnson

Where I liken 2002's darkly beautiful, but depressing Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to the sound of a man about to hit bottom, 2004's A ghost is born is the sound of someone at the bottom, looking up: It's hopeful, in other words.

This analogy seems fitting, as 2004 was the year when Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy checked himself into rehab to fight off a nagging addiction to painkillers he took to ward off the chronic migraines that can render someone completely incapable of functioning. As if predicting this, Tweedy constructed an album that seemed more to be about recovery, acceptance, and finding beauty—even while suffering and struggling to climb the steep hill back to being a healthy, functioning human being.

It may not break the ground that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot did, but it perfects the Wilco model of music. This is Wilco at its most earnest, honest point, a perfect, uncompromising balance of songcraft and art.

Some moments may seem indulgent, such as the nearly 11 minutes of the Neu!-meets-Rolling Stones “Spiders (Kidsmoke)," and the last 2/3 of “Less Than You Think," an expansive, exhausting soundscape that mimics the feel of a migraine. Together, they might garner exactly one play from most listeners, if they can make it through the entire piece. But the album is carefully constructed to provide a vague narrative to an unspoken story.

By the time the simple, but rousing album closer “The Late Greats" rolls around, the listener has gotten far more out of the album than music alone intends. They've been taken on a journey and back again.

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