Wilco - The Whole Love
Record Label: dBpm
Release Date: September 27, 2011
When "Art of Almost", the seven-minute track that kicks off Wilco's eighth studio album The Whole Love, pours forth from my speakers, it sounds almost like the prodigal son returning after a shorter-than-it-felt-like stint away. After two albums of laid-back and rather content-sounding fare, one of which-- in my mind anyway-- succeeded wildly in spite of itself (I dare you to tell me Sky Blue Sky wasn't the perfect accompaniment to the late spring days that followed its release or that "Impossible Germany" isn't just the best breezy jam ever) and another that fell sort of flat and had me wondering if Jeff Tweedy wasn't about ready kick back in a nice comfy rocking chair, ashtray at the ready, and call it a good-- nay, great-- run, the band open their latest with a noise-filled suckerpunch sure to surprise (and delight) anyone expecting another batch of low-T, middle-aged rock. "Almost", which would have fit right in on an album like A Ghost Is Born and which, musically, sounds more like something off TV on the Radio's Return to Cookie Mountain than Wilco (The Album), signals the tone of The Whole Love in general, which seems to document a band striving to be relevant, essential even, rather than grizzled veterans doing their thing and cranking out yet another mostly for-fans-only set of tunes.
That's not to say that The Whole Love is an hour of art-rock dissonance. Tweedy is still very much the pop-rock songsmith he's been all along, even throughout his band's more experimental mid-career stretch. One needn't look further than the single "I Might" for proof. Despite its speaker-blowing bass-line, frequent blasts of guitar squall, and lyrics about piss-and-blood sno-cones and setting the kids on fire, there's no denying that, at it's heart, it's a sprightly pop song. Ditto for "Dawned on Me", which may very well be the most overtly-hooky Wilco song since "Box Full of Letters". There's also some material like the slide guitar-dusted "Black Moon", a serene but unsettling tune that's more worthy of the y'all-ternative tag the band's been adorned with than anything else they've recorded recently.
The Whole Love also contains a lot less of the Tweedy who opened up Sky Blue Sky with the lyrics, "Maybe the sun will shine today," without actually seeming to care one way or the other. He's definitely more sure this time out: "I loathe the sun," he sings on the appropriately titled "Sunloathe". At the risk of sounding filled with schadenfreude, it's rather nice to hear his darker side come out, whether it's in simple terms ("sadness is my luxury" from "Borne Alone") or more cryptic ("I know I won't be the last cold captain tied to the mast" from "Whole Love"). Rather than causing resentment or envy toward the artists' self-satisfaction and comfort in their own skin, this is very much a record with which we can commiserate, which I think is the ideal tone for Wilco, given Tweedy's naturally world-weary yet soulful vocal delivery.
I was rather surprised two years ago by some of the assertions about Wilco (The Album), that it was somehow summarial of the band's career, when in fact, it seemed to me like the band had traveled farther down the road toward making soundtracks to a nice Sunday afternoon nap. The Whole Love is much more encompassing of everything vital in the Wilco catalog, the twangy, the noisy, and yes, a little of the leisurely. It sounds a little like a bird-flip to anyone who might have written them off as getting old or losing their edge, as well-earned as such comments might have been. I'm just happy that whatever prompted this turnabout did so, and hope the band stay driven to defy expectations well into the future.
Actually, most places haven't given it more than a 7/10. It's better than the last two, maybe, but it pales in comparison to their older stuff.
7/10 is a great review.
every wilco album gets better with years, so you couldn't possibly say "it pales in comparison" yet.
i also don't buy that it's better than the last two either. to me, each of their releases stands completely on its own. everyone hates on sky blue sky and the album because there's no weird noises on them, big deal. the songs are still so well written it blows my mind.
to each his own, but I think in 20 years, everyone's going to have a much different opinion on where Jeff Tweedy stands as one of the all time great rock songwriters.