Beat me, flog me, throw me to the dogs if you want, but until recently I had never actually heard Wilco’s iconic and life changing, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Why? I have no idea. I have several of the bands other records, and I’ve even seen them live several times, dating back to 2006. However hearing the songs as part of a live set is by no means the same as listening to the record. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I decided to sit down and listened to the album, in its entirety, the way it was mean to be. Now that I have, I can’t put it down. Where have you been all my life?
In 2002, when the record came out, my taste in music was in the gutter, so to speak. I was too busy spiking my pink Mohawk, raising hell with The Exploited’s Beat the Bastards, and starting mosh pits at HFStivals to care about anything else. It wasn’t until I moved out of my parents house that my style relaxed a little bit and I let the calmer sounds in. I came a bit late to the Wilco camp, but better late than never right?
As I’ve been told many times, YHF is the quintessential Wilco album for any new comer (even though I started with Kicking Television). It’s the record that caused so many people to fall in love and turn the band into one of the most beloved of a generation. I had heard all these things, and my final understanding of why started with the feedback and drums of “I am Trying to Break Your Heart”.
Not in a long time had poetry like that been put into a song. The music is scatter brained, moving from strums to random background sounds with Jeff Tweedy’s bitter words as the glue. Nothing is more clear than when he sings “What was I thinking when I let you back in, I am trying to break your heart”. Ouch.
Tweedy’s demons are all over this record, tearing him apart on the exquisite “War on War”, and “Pot Kettle Black” with the lines “You’re tied in a knot, but I’m not gonna get caught, calling a pot kettle black, every song’s a comeback, every moment’s a little bit later.” It’s words like these that could resonate with anyone’s experiences, and that is what makes them, and this record so timeless.
It’s that penetrating song writing that first drew me to Wilco. The kind of universal honesty that is found on this record draws you closer until it’s a part of you. Every time you listen, a new side reveals itself. The record could rotate a million times with out it wearing out. Its unique catchiness is still hard to find on records today, making tracks like “Heavy Metal Drummer” absolute classics in every sense of the word.
The real kicker for YHF is that as it progresses, it builds and gets better. The blues rock of “I’m the Man Who Loves You” could have easily lead the record off, but by burying it, you stay locked, your curiosity eager for more. Really, any one of these tracks could lead the record. They all stand out in some way making it one of those required musical experiences.
It’s those kinds of records that I search for, and I have no idea why I procrastinated on this one for so long. It all makes sense why so many will stick this on their best of the decade lists. So much of the music that’s come out over the past couple of years owes at least a portion of itself to this record (and this band). Influential, sure, but before that label, it was just an amazing record, and now I can say I know why.