The Oh’s: Top Whatever Pt 4: A Ghost is Born

I’ve had an on and off relationship with Wilco over the decade, but they have won in the end: I think they’re brilliant – on record and on stage. But the best moment for this band, I think, during their 8 album career, was the Jim O’Rourke produced A Ghost Is Born, the follow up to the very famous Yankee Hotel Foxtrot record. It’s easily towards the top of my favourite Oh’s records, and is one of my picks that migh possibly match up with other people’s.

According to the renewed and healthy (off the drug habit and way less of a dick) leader Jeff Tweedy, that was his personal nadir, and life was sucking hard for him. But the music on Ghost is incredible, boundary-pushing and powerful; we’ll say nothing of how one might influence the other.

From the 2 covers on in, I dig this album. CD’s were fronted with a pristene egg on white; vinyl copies, an empty nest. Both were back-covered with a vacated shell.  The title comes from the climax of “Theologians,” a song that shows off Tweedy’s considerable abilities as a poet (” No one’s ever gonna take my life from me / I lay it down, a ghost is born”).

The album starts with “At Least That’s What You Said,” the best recounting of a lover’s fight I’ve heard since Raymond Carver’s Will You Please Be Quiet Please? It starts in a whisper, the narrator desperately trying to restart communication without restarting the bedroom war, and erupts into an incredible guitar solo that put the situation into clearer focus that any words ever could: wave after wave of strife, the kind of fury that can only happen in a marriage or a civil war. All the more interesting is the fact that this is Tweedy’s debut as a lead guitarist, and both Neil Young and Richard Lloyd would be impressed. Hear it for yourself:

At Least That’s What You Said

The album is full of excellence: “Handshake Drugs”, “Company In My Back”, “Hummingbird” are all immediate additions to the Wilco canon; “Less Than You Think” is a short, sweet, sad song that morphs into a tastefully challenging 15 minute noise experiment; “I’m A Wheel” is a welcome bit of straight-up rock and roll with a nice lyric (“I’m a wheel: I will turn on you”).

It was the first track (above) and the homage to 70’s Krautrock that really captured me and converted me back into a hardcore fan of the band: “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” is an eleven minute bass-trance that erupts gorgeously into a power-chord wordless chorus that just kills me. Hear it:

Spiders (Kidsmoke)

I don’t want to put these Top Whatever’s into some “order” – it would be forced, because these favourite songs of the decades are a bundle, too different to be ranked. But that being said, if I had to keep only one of them for my desert island or my three year flight to Mars … this might be it. I love this record.


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