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Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was widely acclaimed as one of 2002’s best albums, appearing in year-end lists of Mojo, NME, Q, Rolling Stone, and Uncut, among many others. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot also was featured in multiple decade-end lists, with Rolling Stone naming it #3 Album of the 2000s, as well as many Greatest Albums of All Time lists, including in the NME.
Among Yankee’s inspirations was a recording Tweedy bought at Tower Records in the late 1990s, The Conet Project: Recordings of Shortwave Numbers Stations. As Bob Mehr points out in his new album note, the record got “deep under Tweedy’s skin.” Tweedy said in his 2017 memoir, Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back), “It was as fascinating to me as anything being made by actual musicians using actual instruments … I wanted to know why it was so hypnotic to me. Why could I listen to hours of this stuff, even though I had no clue what any of them were saying. That question became the foundation for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot … the way people communicated or ultimately failed to communicate.” The album takes its title from a haunting recording of a woman repeating those words that is included in The Conet Project; that recording is sampled in the penultimate song on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, “Poor Places.”“
Conceptually, Tweedy had decided to focus on a big idea for the next album: the state of America. His lyrics—often distilled from scribbled pages of free verse or poetry—became a form of inquiry,” Mehr continues. Tweedy said, in 2004, “I wanted to write about the stuff right in front of my eyes, microscopically looking at America and asking questions about each little thing … How can there be all these good things and things that I love about America, alongside all of these things that I’m ashamed of? And that was an internal question, too; I think I felt that way about myself.”
Mehr says, “Exploring those questions, while weaving in strands of Eastern philosophy and bits of autobiography—Yankee lyrics would be loaded with the pained imagery of someone suffering from migraines and mental health issues—Tweedy would conjure a deep examination of both country and self.”Describing the uncanny, strangely prescient feeling of the album, which Wilco began offering as a free stream on its website in 2001, Mehr notes: “In the wake of 9/11, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot would be burdened with unintended meaning. The disc had originally been scheduled for a September 11 release. Its cover—a Sam Jones-shot image of Chicago’s twin Marina Towers angled in looming fashion—bore an eerie resemblance to the felled World Trade Center towers. And the songs—with titles like ‘Ashes of American Flags’ and ‘War on War,’ and lyrics about how ‘tall buildings shake, sad voices escape’—took on a terrible new resonance.”