The Whole Love

Wilco

dBpm, 2011

REVIEW BY: Richard Fulco

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/10/2011

When I first learned that Wilco would be releasing its eighth album, The Whole Love, I was expecting an innocuous adult-contemporary record, something unambitious, 10 to 12 easy listening songs from a band resting on its laurels. But as it turns out, The Whole Love is Wilco’s most adventurous album since its most masterful one, 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

A Ghost is Born (2004) is a fine record, but it’s no Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (in all fairness, it’s unreasonable to expect a band to follow-up a masterpiece with another masterpiece). Their last two albums, Sky Blue Sky (2007) and 2009’s Wilco (The Album), are so straightforward that they lack cohesion. On The Whole Love, however, the album’s innate eclecticism establishes a unified core of twelve songs, which is what Wilco devotees have come to expect.

Jeff Tweedy and company are singing and playing as if they’ve made a pact with the devil; they’re a band possessed. Wilco’s lineup has never been more consistent, which has certainly contributed to the spontaneity and commanding pace of this particular record: bassist John Stirratt provides the foundation; guitarist Nels Cline is the mad scientist; drummer Glenn Kotche is their secret weapon, while multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone and keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen are the George Harrison and Brian Jones of the band, playing solely for the song, connecting the dots and filling in the black and white patterns with vibrant colors. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It always takes a couple of listens before I’m able to acclimate to the rhythm of a Wilco album. The Whole Love was no exception. There is a range of songs—the jaunty “Whole Love,” the power-poppy “Born Alone,” the acoustic ballad “Rising Red Lung,“ the punkish “Standing O” and of course the experimental, “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)” and “Art of Almost.”

Wilco’s first record on its own label, dBpm, The Whole Love opens with the ambitious “Art of Almost,” one of their most challenging songs to date. For anyone who has never heard a Wilco song, “Art of Almost” truly encapsulates the band: after Jeff Tweedy croaks, “I can’t be so far away from my wasteland,” a dance beat ensues, courtesy of Kotche and Stirratt. Its multi-layers consist of percussive sonic rhythms and distorted guitars, like gunshots, that eventually yield to Nels Cline’s hyper-ecstatic guitar solo.

The other highlight on the record is the twelve-minute epic “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend),” that closes the album. Exchanging gorgeous lines with a catchy acoustic guitar hook over a shuffling drumbeat, Tweedy delivers an austere narrative about a father and son: “Bless my mind, I miss being told how to live / What I learned without knowing / How much more I owe than I can give."

In a Rolling Stone interview Jeff Tweedy said, "A lot has been made of our experimentation, but I've always thought that anything I create I should be able to carry with me. A song that works with just a voice and guitar is ideal for communication."

Whenever the record is in danger of becoming saccharine and sentimental, Jeff Tweedy yanks the listener back into his evocative, depressive world: “Sadness is my luxury.” For the most part, Tweedy’s lyrics are nonsensical, giving rise to sounds rather than meaning, but just when he has completely blurred the line between the poetic and unintelligible, he manages to summon a poignant line. On “Born Alone,” for instance, the singer utters an obscurity--“Please come closer to the feather smooth lens fire”—while with his next breath he manages to reveal utter despair, “I was born to die alone.”

We’ll have to wait and see whether Wilco will continue to peak. But compositions such as the “Art of Almost” and “One Sunday Morning” suggest that they refuse to rest on their laurels.

Rating: A-

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