It was never going to be an easy album to make – the relationship between song writing partners Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett was at breaking point before they entered the Studio. Their label wanted something commercial they could pin some radio play onto and Jeff Tweedy himself was in an utterly debilitated state suffering from chronic migraines and developing a severe reliance upon heavy duty pain killers.
From an slow opening rumble of clashing pianos, drums and the sound of a wireless radio tuning we are taken by xylophone and feedback into the most unexpected of opening tracks – “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”
“I am an American aquarium drinker
I assassin down the avenue”
As the opening song fades away into feedback and whines a crisp clear snare drum announces the arrival of Kamera – superficially a very conventional 3 minute pop song but scratch beneath and you will hear counter melodies of songs to come and background effects reminding you that you are listening to one long radio show.
Throughout the album the dichotomy of crisp clear melody meeting fuzz and feedback draws the listener in only to isolate them and push them away. This is an easy album to ignore and it frequently insists you do so.
Elsewhere Jesus etc may well be Tweedy’s finest ballad a stunning sparse song of relationship breakdown set over a beautiful crisp string quartet. It is however side 3 of this double album that confirms its absolute mastery.
Opening with the imperious Heavy Metal Drummer the song that caused Tweedy to Fire Bennett and ending with the albums best track Pot Kettle Black. If Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is for the most part a challenging difficult record – think a countryesque OK Computer with fewer melodies – then side 3 is a masterclass in the pop song. 3 storming 4 minute classics before we are dragged against our will into the sprawling dense finale of side 4’s Poor Places and Reservations and the fade out of a radio announcer repeating Yankee, Hotel, Foxtrot, Yankee, Hotel, Foxtrot.
Each song on YHF is worse than the last and that happens in whichever direction you play it!