Judging albums by their cover

Wilco: A Ghost is Born

I was first brought to the attention of Wilco by their collaboration with Billy Bragg on the Woody Guthrie tribute/interpretation album ‘Mermaid Avenue’. I bought their album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot on the strength of that, it was quite a departure – the first demonstration that Wilco’s music would be a difficult and involving journey.

Wilco make albums, not collections of individual songs. The music requires patience to get into and an album needs to be listened to right through to be fully appreciated. The album ‘A Ghost is Born’ demonstrates once again that persistence rewards the listener of their music. ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ has an interesting history. Deemed unreleasable by their label, Wilco bought the album off of them, and sold it to a smaller label (ironically, a subsidiary of that larger one, in effect they bought it twice). Wilco’s instincts were correct, it was a hit for them, the notoriety allowing them to release an even more uncompromising album in ‘A Ghost is Born’. Songs vary in length from a couple of minutes to over 15 minutes, it hardly matters though, the songs drift into one another, so by the end it feels complete.

This aesthetic carries over into the CD design itself. Never before have I come across a cd package that was so integral to the experience of the album. The first layer on the case is a plastic wrapper that has the title ‘Wilco A Ghost is Born’. peel off the wrapper and you are left with an image of a white egg on a white background, beautifully captured in all of it’s minimalist intensity. On the backside of the CD, the egg develops a crack. Pull out the sleeve, the egg has hatched and you see the two halves. The Disk itself has a yellow ring at the centre (the yolk), the disk lies on a picture of a bed of straw on the inside of the case itself. The effect is ‘the ghost is born’, and gains life when the CD is played.

A beautiful, intelligent and engaging piece of design and a real listening experience.

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