Quick Band Bio: Wilco was formed upon the breakup of Uncle Tupelo, a band with more of a country influence that had shared vocals from Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar. These two had a falling out that led to the group’s demise and Farrar leaving to start a group named Son Volt while Tweedy retained most of Uncle Tupelo and changed the band name to Wilco, an acronym to humorously send the band message of “Will Comply”. Wilco retained some of those Uncle Tupelo sounds, especially in their first two albums of Being There and A.M., but today the band fits better into an alternative rock/country rock category.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was supposed to be Wilco’s 2001 release, but it ended up representing the album that got them kicked off their label and the departure of key band member Jay Bennet. It’s place as an essential album here does represent the collection of some of Wilco’s best work within what is their best album, but also the story about how record companies can be drastically misguided about what the public wants to hear.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot starts with one of the best album openers out there in “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”. It’s a complex track that captures a narrator drunkenly finding his way down the avenue, dealing with the internal debate of what he can do to make the situation work out right. It’s devastating to listen to Tweedy so clearly be in love with the girl, and it’s partially mutual at least (“And sure I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t easy”), but he readily admits that any action he takes towards making something out of it will only result in him hurting her even more when flaws resurface. Internal struggles like the one described in “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” are a continuing theme on the album; “Radio Cure” dives into the issue of only being capable to speak truthfully to a loved one in song and what occurs when that becomes stale, and “Poor Places” tries to place a soldier back into society after the tragic things he’s seen overseas. These tracks get effectively balanced by the energetic tracks on the album like “War on War”, “I’m The Man Who Loves You” and the necessary if nearly meaningless “Heavy Metal Drummer” placed in the middle of the album.
The external story lines for the album is fascinating and best told in the documentary aptly named “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”. The documentary was being filmed to capture the creative process of the album, and ended up capturing the story lines of the feud between Tweedy and Bennet that led to Bennet leaving as well as the band being dropped from their label after submitting Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It used to be on Netflix Instant but now the best I’ve got to offer you is the trailer below.