Wilco – The Whole Love
Wilco – The Whole Love
Ever since their breakthrough, 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco have been trying to find the right mix of their rootsy country-folk side and their experimental, envelope-pushing side. Not that the three albums that followed weren’t fine, but they weren’t as cohesive or uniformly strong as the band’s best work. Even more, on the sort-of self-titled Wilco (The Album), the group took stock of their past, and for all intents and purposes, it seemed Wilco were ready to relegate themselves into comfortable maturity. That’s why 2011’s The Whole Love is such a refreshing surprise. It’s a complex and diverse record, one that recalls their excellent ’90s records, Being There and Summerteeth, as much as it touches on the artier flourishes of their more recent work. In short, its successful synthesis of the band’s many sounds means that The Whole Love is the record that Wilco tried to make for years but hadn’t quite nailed before now. The band’s sound may have not changed considerably—all the familiar pieces are in place—but there’s a vitality and richness in the songwriting and performances that impresses throughout. The first three songs alone cover nearly all the bases of Wilco’s personality: “Art of Almost” starts things off with electronic manipulations and a shifting, propulsive groove but ends up finishing with a fiery guitar solo; “I Might” is a rollicking, ragged pop gem, and the drowsy ballad “Sunloathe” glides through its dreamy arrangements and off-kilter melodies. And yes, typical of their post-Yankee Hotel Foxtrot releases, there is a heavier emphasis on moody contemplation here—check the pensive “Black Moon” and the beautiful closer “One Sunday Morning,” where Jeff Tweedy manages to ride the same melody for 12 minutes without breaking its spell. But the group doesn’t skimp on the uptempo tracks either, with the rock & roll swagger of “Standing O,” the bubbly “Born Alone” and the stomping pop of “Dawned On Me” all easily proving themselves as standouts.
One of the biggest draws of the record, though, is the musicians themselves, who not only impress individually but as a collective. Here is a group of accomplished musicians, playing inventively off one another in the way only a band with the right chemistry can. And it’s as evident on the noisy guitar punctuations that blast through on “Dawned On Me” as the whimsical keyboard and percussion fills on “Capitol City.” Still, The Whole Love doesn’t get by on flash and pretension. Instead, it’s a record that sounds good at first, and unveils a richness and warmth with each consecutive play, growing into something startlingly affecting. To hell with innovation, The Whole Love is simply a great American album produced by one of the great modern American rock bands.