Wilco's great leap forward was a mix of rock tradition, electronics, oddball rhythms and experimental gestures: a new vocabulary for an overwhelmed, dislocated age where we'd need to draw on both history and invention to survive. It is deeply tuneful but also fragile and unsteady. Its pretty acoustic-guitar melodies battled noise, skidded into dissonance or got chopped off abruptly. Its lyrics pitted hope against doubt, with all bets off. "You have to learn how to die," crooned Jeff Tweedy, "if you wanna . . . be alive."
The music was magnified by what came afterward: the band being dropped by its label; Wilco becoming new-media poster boys via the then-radical move of streaming their record for free ahead of the CD release; and, maybe most of all, the attacks of 9/11. The latter added metaphoric weight to songs about love and war, shaky skyscrapers and American flags. But nearly a decade after that perfect storm of history, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot sounds just as jagged and beautiful.
• Rolling Stone's Original 2002 Review