Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, sufferer of migraines and mental disorders, who was recently discharged from rehab for an addiction to painkillers after 2002's I Am Trying to Break Your Heart -- a documentary about the making of his band's last album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot -- revealed him to be both a jittery control freak and a loving father and husband, is the War Admiral of rock stars. As his group's solo maestro on A Ghost Is Born, he manages to stumble across the finish line, damaged but with a fantastic trophy on his hands.

Chicago, Wilco's base of operations, is the birthplace of clank and grind, home to industrial music stalwarts Ministry and My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, and it is this legacy as much as the city's bluesy roots and America's altcountry history that Tweedy references on Ghost. Its masterpiece is the fifteen-minute track "Less Than You Think," three minutes of pop intro followed by twelve minutes of guitar feedback and whine; static, ominous, and muffled booms; and Geiger counter clicks.

Ghost also includes several shorter pieces that thread together Tweedy's more ambitious yet successful aspirations to craft art rock for the year 2005. On first impression, "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" is a ten-minute, straight-ahead guitar jam, its strummed-and-plucked, layered, noisy complexity only becoming apparent on repeated listens. "Hummingbird," "Company in My Back," and "Handshake Drugs" find Tweedy accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, and are reflective and soft without getting all folksy.

Sidestepping Yankee Hotel Foxtrot's collection of stylish genre blends, which yielded a few nearly invincible (college) radio-ready gems, Ghost offers no "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" or "Heavy Metal Drummer." Instead, though varied in texture, the new record possesses such a touching unity in tone and approach that it can only be listened to in its entirety. Tweedy's insistence that his audience devote an hour to soak up Wilco's melody and verse is both confident and naive; the hallmark of a flawed but beloved champion. -- Jean Carey

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