Just that simple

Wilco tries for something completely different

Gabriel Shapiro

Success is a double-edged sword. We all enjoy the praise and attention that comes with doing great work, but the often overlooked question, “what’s next?” can prove extremely difficult to answer.

With the release of their album “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” Wilco found themselves thrust from their position of longtime underground favorites into the role of media darlings (the 2002 official release on Nonesuch came long after the album had been circulated on the Internet). They were instantly everywhere and critics fell over themselves to add to the growing pile of accolades.

Rightly so, since “YHF” is a fantastic record that couldn’t have come out at a better time. Wilco could be given the badge of rock’s latest saviors. The last band to wear that tag, Radiohead, were busy fiddling with knobs on “Kid A” and “Amnesiac,” the biggest acts were either bubblegum boy bands or frighteningly awful yo-metal, and it was high time for rock to be “saved” again. Wilco and “YHF” fit the bill perfectly.

Tuesday saw the release of Wilco’s follow-up to “YHF,” “A Ghost is Born,” and while the record is a solid outing, it feels like its guiding principle was “let’s not remake our last record.” This may not seem that strange. Bands tend to want to grow and change, leaving behind even their most successful formulae to do so. The difference is that it’s one thing to evolve naturally, and quite another to force a change.

“Ghost” lacks the exuberance of tracks like “I’m the Man Who Loves You” or “Heavy Metal Drummer,” even though there are songs that pull in that direction. They’re never turned loose to fully realize their potential. It’s no surprise, then, that the album’s best moments are the subdued, self-doubting tracks Jeff Tweedy sounds most comfortable singing.

Jim O’Rourke is back behind the board for this record, so expect his usual additions of loops, blips and ambient noises.

Stylistically, this record runs from somewhat bluesy Americana, the sort Wilco made their name on in their early days, to droning pieces that might sound more at home on a Kraftwerk/Neu/alt-country record.

If you’re one of the many who downloaded the album

for free, you can hardly be disappointed. This record really seems most likely to add an additional element of anticipation to Wilco’s next release, when, with more distance from “YHF” they can clear their minds of what they should or shouldn’t sound like and just make great, unencumbered music again.