For all of their merits (and there are many), Wilco seem to be a hard band to absolutely love. At their best, Wilco revel in 60s inspired pop played with Band-like precision, occasionally enveloped in Velvet Underground-style noise as evident on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. At their worst, they meander way too much into murky territory as seen on A Ghost Is Born.
2009’s Wilco (The Album) found the band in a sunnier disposition than normal, and might be their most “enjoyable” album from start to finish, but something seemed to be lacking. Released yesterday, The Whole Love finds Wilco reaching back to the experimental side of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but also retaining some of Wilco (The Album)’s brighter moments. It seems that Jeff Tweedy has (mostly) discovered that experimental music and avant-garde flights of fancy doesn’t necessarily equal pain.
As a band, Wilco never seem more alive than they do on the The Whole Love. It’s their White Album – at least stylistically. Wilco has always been Jeff Tweedy’s band, but on this album the band itself seems to be enjoying following his lead and happy to go down whatever road he wants. Opening track “Art of Almost” starts off as a slow-burner, only to explode into a guitar freak-out half-way through. The keyboards on “I Might” seems as if they were sampled from a long lost track The Animals might have recorded in 1965. “Black Moon” is laid-back and inviting, while “Standing O” seems like a nod to Elvis Costello circa 1977-1978. Of course, Jeff Tweedy being Jeff Tweedy there are still somber moments, most of which are reserved for the 12-minute closer “One Sunday Morning”. Unlike before the listener can actually resonate with Tweedy on this track. It’s one of the most moving parts of the album.
The Whole Love ranks up there with the best of Wilco’s work. It’s challenging (for both the listener and the band, apparently) in a way that few contemporary albums are. Wilco have once again proved that they are continuously one of America’s most fascinating bands (even if they hard to love.)