Review: Wilco’s “The Whole Love”

The grey beards of indie make their best album in years.

Photo courtesy dBpm

“The Whole Love” was released on Tuesday, September 27

Raghav Mehta

 

Album: âÄúThe Whole LoveâÄù

Band: Wilco

Record Label: dBpm

Year: 2011

Forget everything you thought you knew about Wilco. After the release of their last record âÄî the self-referential, roots-rock romp âÄúWilco (The Album)âÄù âÄî it almost seemed too obvious to even acknowledge that one of AmericaâÄôs most inventive and daring rock âÄònâÄô roll bands had hit a creative dry spell.

WilcoâÄôs last two releases certainly werenâÄôt duds by any measure, but they were devoid of all the guts and grief that made their predecessors so endearing. But whether you want to chalk all the hazard-free melodrama up to post-rehab writerâÄôs block or simply cart it off as a minor case of late-stage malaise doesnâÄôt matter at this juncture. If there are any definitive statements âÄúThe Whole LoveâÄù makes about its creators, itâÄôs this: Wilco isnâÄôt all out of ideas just yet.

From the initial crackles of sound that open up the first track âÄúArt of Almost,âÄù itâÄôs clear it isnâÄôt verse-chorus-verse as usual for âÄúThe Whole Love.âÄù Sounding more despondent than he has in years, singer Jeff Tweedy croons atop warbles of electronic pitter-patter and hiccupping percussion. But then, at the very second the dust settles, the whole arrangement erupts into a high-speed sonic meltdown, with guitarist Nels Cline leading the way. It doesnâÄôt come close to mirroring the early-morning timidity of âÄúEither WayâÄù or its predecessorâÄôs title track. If anything, it sounds more like a distant cousin of âÄúAt Least ThatâÄôs What You Said.âÄù

ThereâÄôs a certain darkness that sits at the heart of âÄúThe Whole Love,âÄù but every song sounds too sarcastic, too cathartic to be taken so seriously. Tweedy ditched the tortured artist shtick years ago, but since then heâÄôs struggled as a songwriter to find a voice as compelling as the one that defined him. On the albumâÄôs single âÄúI Might,âÄù heâÄôs all nervous energy, barely sputtering each lyric amid a storm of clinging bells, whistling organs and buzz-saw guitar tones. Even in the fairly upbeat âÄúBorn Alone,âÄù Tweedy is just playing with his syllables, proving that our beloved disposable Dixie cup drinker never stopped being an alliterative word junkie: âÄúI have heard the wall and worried of the gospel/Ferry faust across the void/Ihave married broken spoke charging smoke wheels/Spit and swallowed opioids.âÄù

But like any other gusty Wilco release, âÄúThe Whole LoveâÄù can feel inconsistent upon first listen. There are all sorts of musical curveballs they toss at you. From the tempered acoustic numbers (âÄúBlack MoonâÄù and âÄúOpen MindâÄù) to the Coney Island whimper of âÄúCapitol CityâÄú to the outrageously ambitious 12-minute closer, âÄúOne Sunday Morning (Song for Jane SmileyâÄôs Boyfriend),âÄù the band seems more interested in just enjoying themselves than shifting the dynamics of music.

Perhaps the albumâÄôs greatest triumph is its distinctive quality. While listeners wonâÄôt be treated to another âÄúYankee Hotel FoxtrotâÄù or âÄúSummerteethâÄù ever again, you will hear something that sounds entirely different from anything the group has ever produced.

Wilco never stops growing and if âÄúThe Whole LoveâÄù is about anything, itâÄôs about coming to terms with the fact that weâÄôve changed and that acceptance is our only option. And sometimes thatâÄôs not such a bad thing âÄî sometimes it actually sounds pretty great. Change is inevitable, so letâÄôs learn to embrace it.

 

3 ½ / 4 stars