My iPod #560: Wilco – I Am Trying to Break Your Heart

The story goes that Wilco were going through some inner turmoil during the making of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, particularly between lead singer and guitarist Jeff Tweedy and fellow guitarist and composer Jay Bennett. Their original record label weren’t so impressed with the final result of their work, rejected it and told the band to get out of their faces, leaving them with an album to provide but no label to release it. Eventually things all fell into place. Wilco got signed again. The album, originally slated for September 2001, was physically released to the masses months later in May 2002. Critics ate it up, fans loved it. Still do to this day. It has gone down as one of the best albums of the opening decade of this century.

‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart’ is the album’s opener. It’s seven minutes long. It takes about a minute of that time for the song’s main chord progression to make itself known after a sort of instrumental prelude of pianos, percussion and organs. Tweedy’s mellow voice comes in with the album’s first (and possibly most quoted) lines “I am an American aquarium drinker/I assassin down the avenue/I’m hiding out in the big city blinking/What was I thinking when I let go of you?”, and it all goes on from there really. You have to listen to it for that full experience.

Tweedy doesn’t have the greatest singing voice. Not soulful, or belting from the stomach or whatever. But it’s just perfect for the whole mood of the track. And the album in general. The vocal melody is the most simple thing. But it’s great. It will get in your head. And accompanied by the very full mix provided by Jim O’Rourke, it’s an enrapturing listen. It’s hard to not find yourself in a bit of a trance when hearing this. You probably won’t feel it on your first listen. It’ll sink in.

Above is the supposed demo of the tune, as recorded by Jay Bennett before it went through remixing for the album. Some prominent smooth Rhodes(?) piano in there, but not quite the same.


My iPod #505: Wilco – Heavy Metal Drummer

Both this track and “I Am the Man Who Loves You” jumped out to me as being the radio-friendly hits from Wilco’s well-respected album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Though the album did go through a ton executive meddling that pushed back its initial release and forced it to be distributed on a completely label altogether, all of which was pleasantly documented, it could have been commercially represented by singles which I think would have been very popular. But what do I know?

“Heavy Metal Drummer” is one of the brighter, and lighter sounding tracks on the album. Faking you out with a boom-box drum beat for the first few seconds, the song suddenly bursts with a delightful piano line and brisk acoustic guitars amidst a general perky beat provided by drummer Glenn Kotche. The mix is then filled with bubbly synthesizers for the majority of the track as Jeff Tweedy recounts memories of the past from the heavy metal bands to personally playing Kiss covers whilst high.

You can’t help but feel the melancholic undertone when Tweedy sings “I miss the innocence I’ve known”. He yearns for the times when life wasn’t so hard and everything was alright. But the music’s uplifting and sometimes child-like playfulness overtakes that lingering sadness.