Wilco and Neil Young
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The band Wilco has gone from a near cult following in their early days as a Uncle Tupelo spinoff, to a critical darling with the album "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot", to nearly mainstream success with 2004's album "A Ghost is Born".
Almost without exception, nearly every review of the critically acclaimed album "A Ghost is Born" cited Neil Young's influential sound on the album's production. From the grungy feedback to fiery guitar solos, "Ghost" has the spirit of Neil Young and his band Crazy Horse hovering in the studio. One could speculate that Wilco listened to "Ragged Glory" before starting the recording process and went from there for inspiration.
Band leader Jeff Tweedy has cited Young's influence in interviews on their "No Depression/alt.country" sound. In the book Learning How To Die by Greg Kot, an excerpt from the book discusses the influence of Neil Young on Jeff Tweedy's pre-Wilco days:
"You can't underestimate Young's influence on that whole scene," says journalist Richard Byrne.
"I would say the main reason I got what was happening was because I was a huge Tonight's the Night fan, and Tonight's the Night was the album for all of these guys, for Brian Henneman, for Jay Farrar, for Jeff Tweedy. They were hearing the country and folk stuff that they grew up around, and they were listening to all their SST punk records, and Neil crystallized it for them."
More on the book Learning How To Die as noted by Expecting To Fly from Rust:
on page 6 Kot writes:
Perhaps. Neil Young once got sued by his label in the 1980s for making what te gravely disappointed executive David Geffen called 'unrepresentative' albums--in other words, they didn't sell well enough.
And later, on page 66 referring to Uncle Tupelo's album March 16-20, 1992:
What follows are a series of album reviews for "A Ghost is Born" mentioning the Neil Young connection gathered from over on Thrasher's Blog.
Neil Young and Crazy Horse's influence on Wilco's "A Ghost Is Born" seems to be on every critics mind these days. A review in Washingtonpost.com by David Segal observes that Wilco has one of the highest inverse ratio's of critical acclaim to sales. I.e., great reviews and low sales. Sort of like Young's music?!
You might admire the nerve it took Tweedy to play the numbingly long electric guitar solo on the album opener, 'At Least That's What You Said,' reaching for the wearying effect that Neil Young achieved in live jams with his band Crazy Horse. Or you might wonder what kind of lunatic would plop such an inhospitable welcome mat at the front of an album, one that all but dares listeners to go knock on someone else's door.
'Ghost' is a rethinking of rock's mannerisms that mostly reminds you why these mannerisms became so popular in the first place. With production by Jim O'Rourke, who hails from the niche world of electro-acoustic rock, the album has the feel of a disoriented confession; it seems to take place in a landscape of the mind where almost nothing is familiar. There is a drug deal happening on 'Handshake Drugs,' the Devil swings by for a how-do-you-do on 'Hell Is Chrome,' but otherwise, the lyrics leave you anxiously stranded, without reference points, in a psychedelic heap. "
From BBC review by Chris Jones:
In fact it's guitars that are the album's touchstone. Tweedy, describing his style herein as: 'inspired amateurism' is being typically modest. His Neil Young-like tone and frenzied fretboard manglings make the perfect subversive backdrop to the traditional song formats the band work within. One can only guess at how good this will sound when combined with new member Nels Cline's even further-out extemporisations.
The band never forget their Americana roots, however. A song like ''Muzzle Of Bees'' can still remind one of wide open spaces (but still undercut with brooding electric menace) and, when it comes to tracks like ''Hummingbird'' and ''Company In My Back'', there's no denying that Tweedy still has an almost Beatlesque eye for a tune."
A mediocre review of Wilco's "A Ghost is Born" in the Evansville CourierPress by Mark Wilson with the obligatory Neil reference:
It just keeps getting funnier these Wilco reviews and Neil young analogies. From The Dallas Morning News By THOR CHRISTENSEN:
He fares better when he concentrates on actual songs, not guitar-driven noise, like 'Hummingbird,' a Beatlesque ditty laced with viola and dulcimer, or the meditative ballads 'Wishful Thinking' and 'Hell Is Chrome.' Like most Wilco CDs after 1995's A.M., this one is heavy on slow songs with drowsy vocals and cryptic lyrics. Still, Mr. Tweedy definitely remembers how to rock: 'I'm a Wheel' is the best song T. Rex never wrote."
I realize this getting to be repetitive, but I'm wondering how many reviews there are that compare Wilco's "A Ghost is Born" to Neil Young and his musical style? The primary reason I started this blog was to capture Neil's influence on today's music and if there was ever a better example of it, it would have to be Wilco.
Without a doubt, Wilco is one of the few bands today that are experimental, adventurous and unpredictable. By definition, Wilco is truly rock & roll.
So here's the latest Wilco and Neil Young comparison from The Daily Tar Heel by Michael Pucci:
The opener, "At Least That's What You Said," emerges suddenly from a spare account of a lovers' quarrel into a ragged but powerful instrumental, reminiscent of old Neil Young records, led by Tweedy's staccato guitar and Glenn Kotche's drumming assault."
From New Zealand's STUFF, a Wilco review of "Ghost" by GRANT SMITHIES which considers the album's best songs:
And the Wilco reviews of "A Ghost is Born" continue with their comparisons to Neil Young and Crazy Horse -- almost to point of absurdity as this Blogcritics review by Jane Ripley notes:
Wilco rave reviews continue with Neil Young comparisons. From Dallas/Fort Worth Star-Telegram .
Wilco reviews continue to roll in. Another Wilco review this time from The Village Voice by James Hunter.
This is excellent, because the rinky-dink Americana/alt-country apprehension of Wilson -- the delusional idea that classic Beach Boys had less to do with a genius instance of Hollywood glamour than some sort of fanciful homey suburban folk -- has always been plainly wrong, and Wilco have been chief offenders in perpetrating the hoax. Loads better for them to proceed, as they do on A Ghost Is Born, as though they can't get enough Neil Young. Wilco understand his eccentrically expressive ways with vacuum-tube reality. They don't willfully imagine Young as Bing Crosby, as much of Americana/alt-country has viewed Wilson as Hank Williams with arpeggios. Moreover, on the several creeping ballads such as 'At Least That's What You Said' and 'Theologians' that Tweedy almost mumbles, Wilco also exhibit a decent grip on Sister Lovers - period Alex Chilton. Their version can't communicate the Big Star protagonist's pharmaceutical nightmares, yet it still sears."
And this review in New York Daily News by Jim Farber (along with Sonic Youth review and an interesting comparison with Wilco):
Wilco leader and axman Jeff Tweedy isn't exactly Neil Young. But his budding attempts at strangulated guitar lines have a certain freedom to them, and they reflect the album's troubled lyrical themes."
Greg Kot's new book "Learning How To Die" is reviewed in The New York Times by Joe Klein.
"Through it all, Tweedy has produced some terrific (and not so terrific) music. Each Wilco album is different from the last. Tweedy is a classic autodidact, inhaling books, constantly pushing himself to grow and change. Over time, he has become a better guitar player and learned how to mess with the computerized gimmickry of the modern recording studio. Most important, he has figured out how to sing in an entirely distinctive and compelling way. Like Bob Dylan, Neil Young and others, Tweedy has a scratchy, nasal, good-bad voice, which depends on his emotional intelligence and phrasing, rather than timbre, for its effectiveness. His delivery is purposefully nervous, artfully irresolute. He will bend or slur a phrase, pause uncomfortably, allow a note to shatter in mid-attack; at times, it sounds as if he's very close to a nervous breakdown. There is a terrible sadness to it. (As affecting as Tweedy's postmodern angst can be, I sometimes miss the occasional lacerating jolt of angry energy Jay Farrar brought to their collaborations.) "
More on Greg Kot's Wilco book "Learning How To Die".
In a review of Wilco's performance in London's Astoria in the UK Telegraph, Andrew Perry writes:
Almost completely inconspicuous are the kind of acts, such as Neil Young or Sonic Youth, whose music is marked by a love of exploration within tradition, by the desire to re-route the classic forms of rock in experimental new directions. In fact, that noble lineage is currently upheld by just one group - Wilco.
Good-natured, grounded but electrically charged, Tweedy was the kind of rock star they don't seem to make any more. His moment has surely arrived."
From Hartford Advocate a review of Wilco's "A Ghost is born" by John Adamian with the obligatory Neil reference:
"More than anything, A Ghost Is Born reminds one of On the Beach , Neil Young's 1974 misanthropic masterpiece. Like Young's famous Neanderthal guitar-noise minimalism, Tweedy's six-string skitterings provide an unusual counterpoint to the otherwise stark, somber, and pretty songs. The strictures of the three-minute song form are thoroughly disregarded on tracks like the 10-minute 'Spiders.' Twelve minutes of slow amp noise follow 'Less Than You Think,' which brings you to the disc's semi-hidden conclusion, 'The Late Greats' -- a funny tribute to the unrealized potential of all the bands that never get heard."
From Toronto Sun review "The weird wonders of Wilco" by MARY DICKIE (Monday, August 2, 2004):
From their early days as alt-country royalty to their journeys through experimental bleeping to the Crazy Horse/Velvet Underground guitar jamming on their new album, A Ghost Is Born, there's always someone who raves about it and someone who thinks it's the worst thing ever.
According to frontman Jeff Tweedy, the only thing to do is to bash on regardless.
'I don't understand how to do it any other way,' he says. 'I don't believe you can give people what they want by trying to. You make stuff to make yourself happy, and then you put it out into the world and the world makes what it wants out of it. For the past two records, the reaction has been weird, though. Before, if you didn't like it you just ignored it, but now it feels like you have to convince the world it's not worth anything. I find that invigorating.'
'I'd rather have our music heard -- that's the whole point. I want people to listen to our records, and if it means they don't pay, I'd rather that than have them never listen.'
A very thorough analysis of Wilco's "A Ghost is Born" on PopMatters review "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" by Zeth Lundy.
Tweedy has also found a new outlet for such wellsprings of charged emotion: the guitar solo. This may be the element of Ghost that comes off as the most surprising. Tweedy's like a hurricane? Yup. Actually, he's more like Neil Young learning Thurston Moore's solos (or vice versa). They all reek of a player who has recently discovered his instrument's voice, but are endlessly fascinating as they skirt around typical solo confines, refusing to follow a song's melody or chord structure, and often contribute to the overall dissonance of the piece."
From a Houston Press review "The Litmus Band Is Wilco still trying to break your heart, or has it done so already?" by Scott Faingold:
From The State News By MEGAN FRYE
As a friend of mine said after hearing "A Ghost is Born" for the first time: If Neil Young and Beck were to have a love child - the result would be Wilco.
As with Beck, sometimes Wilco's lyrics don't make any sense at all. It's as if they were just strung together without purpose or meaning, but it seems, upon closer inspection, that there is meaning behind them."
More on Wilco on David Letterman Show and Austin City Limits in January 2005.
Check on reviews of Wilco's "A Ghost is Born" on Thrasher's Blog.
Concert reviews on Thrasher's Blog of Wilco at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore - September 28, 2004 and at 9:30 Club in Washington, DC in June, 2004.
Via Chicago Discussion on Neil Young's Influence on Wilco's music
More on Uncle Tupelo, Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar. Also see Wilco's Wikipedia page.
Also, see Discussion on Via Chicago Forums on Neil Young, Wilco & Jeff Tweedy influences.
A super review, setlist and photos of Wilco in Toronto at the Mod Club August 4, 2004 on Chromewaves.net by Frank and at Toronto's Massey Hall, October 9, 2004. Also, see review of Learning How To Die book by Greg Kot.
Some articles on Wilco on nutnhunee.
More on Wilco on Thrasher's Blog [search].
Jammin' with Neil Young
A Neil Young Music Blog tracing His Influence from alt-country to Grunge
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