My Top 1000 Songs #427: I Am Trying To Break Your Heart

[I've been writing up my Top 1000 songs on a daily basis--you can see them all in descending order by hitting the All My Favorite Songs tag.]

There are songs I enjoy more on Wilco's groundbreaking fourth album, 2002's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot--the beautiful ballad "Jesus Etc."; the upbeat, slightly skewed rocker "I'm The Man Who Loves You"; the whimsical nostalgia of "Heavy Metal Drummer." But the album-opening "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" feels like a rousing statement of purpose, a brazen declaration that Wilco is not simply great--something which seemed obvious somewhere between 1996's traditionalist Being There and 1999's thoughtful baroque pop masterpiece Summerteeth--but important.

The band had shown some more experimental urges before (Being There's operatic "Misunderstood," Summerteeth's psychedelicized "A Shot In The Arm." But "Break" takes it a step or three further, Jeff Tweedy and crew making full use of the studio's potential, filling the song's epic reach with aesthetic wizardry and brilliant instrumental flourishes, the empty spaces as noteworthy as the intermittent sonic overload, pretty acoustic guitars and fascinating percussion bumping up against sonic otherness. The lyrics range from deliriously cryptic to painfully sad, a break-up song that refused to be just another break-up song. "I am an American aquarium drinker; I assassin down the avenue" is one of the all-time great opening lines, gleefully nonsensical yet still somehow cloaked in significance. But the personal touches--"What was I thinking when I let go of you?"--make it real.

Impressively, despite the makings of the classic "made for the studio" track, the song takes on even greater gravitas on stage.

Live 2009:


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