Wilco – The Whole Love
At the end of Wilco’s groundbreaking 2002 release, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Jeff Tweedy emotes, “I’ve got reservations, about so many things, but not about you.” And in the following decade, Wilco has resided in upper echelon of American rock music.
Wilco’s 2004 record, A Ghost is Born, was a revered follow-up to YHF. The raucous album, Kicking Television (2005), also captured the creative energy of Wilco’s live shows. But many have had reservations about Wilco’s last two records, Sky Blue Sky and Wilco (the album).
The Chicago sextet’s reversion to their alt-Americana, more straight-ahead roots rock have been the main launching point of the criticism. But considering that these records contain a handful of beautiful and well constructed songs (“Impossible Germany,” “You Are My Face,” “Walken,” “Black Bull Nova”), perhaps these criticisms are not entirely well founded.
But any reservations about Wilco’s eighth studio album, The Whole Love, are erased in the experimental opener, “The Art of Almost.”
When the needle drops, intriguing electronic droplets, Radiohead-esque drums and thick pulsating bass lines mix over a synthetic swell. Tweedy then enters with his trademark hushed vocals – a strong unusual melody that immediately draws interest. But it isn’t until four and a half minutes into this first track that Wilco signifies that this album will be their strongest sonic effort in a decade. A crunchy guitar riff appears and gunshots fire from drummer Glenn Kotche’s snare, building a solid backbone for one of Nel’s Cline’s most ferocious, face-melting guitar freak-outs on record. It is here that Wilco lets us know this is not going to be a third traditional rock album in row.
After the first tune, The Whole Love retraces and masterfully builds upon the best of Wilco’s prior recorded catalogue, including the last two underappreciated releases, Sky Blue Sky and Wilco (the album). And with more overt Beatles influences than ever before.
The first single, “I Might” is as pop as Wilco has ever been, but it still recalls the upbeat spirit of the album, Summerteeth. “Sunloathe,” is Tweedy being inspired by John Lennon more than ever before, and “Born Alone,” with its Beatles inspired descending crescendo of chords, is a prime example of the band’s trademark creativity; catchy melodies, well-written melodramatic lyrics and impeccable guitar playing all work together seamlessly, with innovative sonic accents. The same can be said for “Dawned on Me,” a more optimistic, upbeat love song.
“Capital City” jingles and jangles, bounces and floats with an Americana drawl, and sports an occasional electronic lick that could have been found on Sky Blue Sky. So too with with the delicate, finger-picked love song, “Open Mind,” which is perhaps the best lyrical effort on The Whole Love. “Black Moon” features beautiful acoustic picking and haunting string arrangements washing over Tweedy’s muted vocals. This song could have fit possibly fit on Wilco (The Album). But as with the result of the album, it is a different, stronger, more intriguing offering that should silence any “reservations.”
And the title track, the second to last song on the album, offers a bit of a new falsetto twist to the band’s sound, recalling familiar fluttering guitar tones and the best harmonies from prior efforts.
Before departing, Tweedy and company leave us with the record’s true gem, the more traditional, 12 minute epic,” One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend).” In what is arguably one of Tweedy’s great songwriting accomplishments, one simple acoustic guitar riff, accented by Cline’s electronic harmony and a beautiful piano accompaniment, supports an epic story about a troubled relationship between father and son. The Whole Love ends on the opposite side of the musical spectrum from where it began, a creative tactic that few other bands could possibly pull off.
With homage to their own material, as well as to The Beatles, and plenty of innovative creativity and experimentation, The Whole Love will likely be the record that pushes Wilco deep into the mainstream consciousness. The album certifies Wilco as one of the best bands in American music today.