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Phantom (CD-Rom), ASIN B00005YXZH
On the much ballyhooed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco -- the best band on Planet Earth -- alchemize R.E.M. Murmur low-mix paradox lyrical mystery with White Album sonic innovation. Frankly, Uncle Tupelo fans, this ain't alt country anymore. I still love Wilco's first album, A.M., too, but this band sounds far different -- rank strangers almost.

CD: Wilco, yankee hotel foxtrotThe songs brim with bright Byrds jangle combined with angular arch fragments of sinister obtuse lyrics. The ominous "you have to lose/you have to die" lyric of "War on War" meshes fully with a melody lifted from about 37,000 listens to REM's "Sitting Still" mixed with "Subterranean Alien." Lead singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy still prays nightly in the direction of Pere Ubu, except now Tweedy stands tall, watching clear-eyed, his voice once again his own, after the slippage of Summer Teeth.

Tweedy hasn't forgotten melody -- he never did in fact. On Summer Teeth he forgot the difference between lyrics saying one thing and song flowing in a different direction. "I would die if I knew I could come back new/ I'm down on hands and knees every time I hear the doorbell ring," he sings on "Ashes Of American Flags," a song about -- you guessed it -- the desire for rebirth, making the past old, the new new again. The music matches the subject for sonic clarity, and invention marries with a melody at once jangly and rueful. Melody and mood hold hands tightly this time around.

Alt country does seep in, albeit heavily filtered, in songs of reminiscence like "Heavy Metal Drummer" ("I've missed the innocence I've known/playing Kiss covers/beautiful and stoned.") "Heavy Metal Drummer" comes complete with a gorgeous, hook-driven melody refreshingly free of the heavy metal trappings it evokes, conveying beauty and substance rather than rote renditions of form. The wildly gifted Tweedy, who serves as song writer along with Jay Bennett on several tracks, seamlessly combines what seems to be at least 200 styles at once. Dig the subtle Hendrix intro on "I'm The Man Who Loves You." (Imagine the Rolling Stones and Hendrix meeting Dashboard Confessional.)

I also find much warmth that was absent on Summer Teeth. Tweedy's singing tone whispers. He puts his arm around your shoulder far more on this superior record. "Every moment's a little bit later," he intones on "Pot Kettle Black," a song that melodically invokes "Ain't No Use In Loving" from the mighty Uncle Tupelo's CD Anodyne.

"I've got reservations about so many things," Tweedy sings on the discs final song "Reservations." On the strengths of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, both critically and commercially, Tweedy has nothing to worry about. The disc proves him to be a consummate songsmith on a Lennon-esque level -- with a band to match.

Michael Pacholski

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