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Jeff Tweedy is destined to be the Roger Maris of indie rock. He just can’t shake that asterisk. As profoundly as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot altered critical and popular perceptions of Tweedy’s band, the content of the record itself is almost secondary to its context, to the extent that one cannot be discussed without the other. Warner Bros. inadvertently created an irresistible media angle when it balked at releasing the album because of its ostensibly questionable commercial potential, only to repurchase the rights to it through a subsidiary. Similarly—the inherent lameness of using recovery as a hook to sell records aside—the rehab-themed media rollout that’s accompanied Wilco’s new A Ghost Is Born proves more distracting than useful, practically commanding the listener to assign druggy origins to the album’s 12 tracks. Whatever the nature of Tweedy’s addictions, they don’t figure all that prominently here, save for the painkiller haze that fogs opener “At Least That’s What You Said” and the tedious noise collage tacked onto the end of “Less Than You Think.” Ghost’s evolution seems more likely influenced by producer/collaborator Jim O’Rourke, who this time largely abandons the kitchen-sink embellishments that shaped much of Foxtrot’s fractured beauty. Like O’Rourke’s recent work with Sonic Youth, Ghost has a loose vibe, reflecting a live-in-the-studio approach with minimal after-the-fact tinkering. The results are scattershot: When Tweedy isn’t trying to split the difference between “Soldier”-era Neil Young and “Like a Hurricane”-era Neil Young, as on “At Least That’s What You Said,” his songs fare much better. Of the album’s most memorable turns, “Handshake Drugs” is a hummable throwback to the swagger of 1999’s Summerteeth, making the most of John Stirratt’s rubbery bass line, while “Theologians” exploits Tweedy’s knack for composing melodies that seem instantly familiar. And the squalls of feedback and aimless guitar wanking that work so poorly elsewhere on Ghost can’t detract from the insistent groove of “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” the product of just two alternating patterns that, stretched over 11 minutes, have a mesmerizing effect. Ultimately, Wilco’s latest isn’t the letdown it sometimes threatens to be. When Tweedy & Co. ditch the middling stuff, what’s left is glorious proof that there is life after a career-defining opus.—Chris Hagan