The Whole Love

Reviewing Wilco's new ‘The Whole Love’

The Whole Love

Wilco’s discography opens an unexpected third chapter today with The Whole Love, released through the beloved Chicago sextet’s new dBpm Records. Not until this eighth studio album, in fact, the first Wilco LP bypassing Warner Bros. imprint Reprise and affiliate Nonesuch, did it become obvious that Jeff Tweedy has been a man in search of a band.

Debut A.M. (1995) and its double album follow-up a year later, Being There, document Tweedy’s compositional outpouring after his liberation from the critical and inter-band gravitas of Uncle Tupelo. Summerteeth (1999) introduced a Beatlesque detailing to match the songcraft, a mission that peaked with the watershed breakthrough of 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. As documented in cinematic YHF spin-off I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, Wilco then imploded.

Most gratifying about The Whole Love is the perspective it lends Wilco’s previous three discs. A Ghost is Born (2004) represents the group’s gene mutation (guitarist Nels Cline), introducing a Teutonic experimentation in “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” its obvious genesis in the adventurousness of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, yet a thrilling evolutionary lurch forward. The Whole Love circles back to the exploratory gusto of Ghost and in doing so outs its understated (and underachieving) follow-up Sky Blue Sky (2007) as almost a solo effort for Tweedy, the stripping back of sound for song (“Please Be Patient With Me”). Like Summerteeth, 2009’s Wilco (the Album) embellishes Sky's singer-songwriter fare with deceptively effective Liverpudlian detailing.

From the fully integrated band sound of The Whole Love, a right balance of material and musical matting, it’s now clear that it took Tweedy all of Ghost, Sky, and (Album) to get comfortable with his post-Yankee Hotel Foxtrot group configuration. This is a headphones album from beginning to end.

Textural obfuscation and a blip pattern straight out of the Who’s “Eminence Front” lead off seven-minute opener “Art of Almost,” whose enigmatic tangle of Tweedy self-doubt wouldn’t have had such a playful beat on the previous three LPs. Its head shop bubbles and burbles give the album an upbeat start, which is a key counterpoint to Tweedy’s often downbeat lyrics. All of it builds and boils to a furious guitar climax at the center of the sextet’s all-out storm.

Pair that with the succeeding “I Might,” easily Wilco's best single since “Shot in the Arm” from Summerteeth, and one might be disinclined to peg its keyboard hook as eerily similar to a recent Fitz & the Tantrums breakthrough that no doubt traces all the way back to Augie Meyers anyway. An impressionistic blat of Rosarch lyricism, “I Might” is Tweedy at his most confident:

“You won’t set the kids on fire, oh but I might.”

Its sibling riff returns on “Standing.” (“I found a fix for the [Fitz], whispers Tweedy on “Rising Red Lung.”)

After that initial knockout combo, the first half of The Whole Love executes a dizzying seesaw act. Depressive proclamation “Sunloathe” (“I loathe the sun”) comes dressed in a symphonic, Abbey Road-like matrix, but tilting back up is the succeeding “Dawned On Me,” its pop opposite, the perfect sunshine side of Tweedy (“I can’t help it if I fall in love with you again”). “Black Moon” then completes the triptych back on the darker side of “Sunloathe,” its string arrangement mesmerizing. “Born Alone” punctuates side one with its philosophical bent (“sadness is my luxury”) contrasting another buoyant rocker.

Side two isn’t quite as brilliant, its moments smaller, more personal, cuing up another initial one-two punch in the restless restart of “Open Mind” and buoyant seaside touches of the adjoining light tap dance, “Capital City.” Firecracker heart of the second side, “Standing” sets up a last yin/yang in “Rising Red Lung” and “Whole Love,” both killing time somewhat until the grand finale, 12-minute folk shuffle “One Sunday Morning,” which misses only a Nels Cline through line to make it truly epic.

The Whole Love, a brand new day.

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Wilco, Jeff Tweedy, Beatles, Nels Cline

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