[sic] Magazine

Wilco – The Whole Love

There is a danger when you try to satisfy everyone that you satisfy no one. Jeff Tweedy is keenly aware of this since in recent years Wilco has tended to polarize music fans who love their experimental side as evidenced on their masterpiece Yankee Hotel Foxtrot but are not overly keen on their gentle country rock side as evidenced by albums like Sky Blue Sky . But, in the world of Wilco the whole is the sum of the parts and in a remarkable career they have become the premier American band by refusing to be pigeonholed and being driven by a sense of sonic adventure.

The Whole Love is their eighth full album and comes as a single album or a slightly longer special edition with 4 additional tracks. It essentially covers all Wilco bases with a mix of the experimental and traditional. This is most in evidence on the two best tracks which bookend the main album. First up is the powerful 7 minute plus opener ‘Art Of The Almost’ made up of a wonderful cacophony of pulsing synths, propulsive beats and Nels Cline doing a great impression of Richie Blackmore . As a polar opposite the album concludes with the gorgeous twelve minute plus alt-country acoustic epic ‘One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)’ where not one second is wasted and which may be one of Tweedy’s finest compositions ever. In between you get some of the best pop songs since Summerteeth and a fine balance between artsy, melodic and country. The single ‘I Might’ for example has a throbbing bass, a sub Doors style keyboard line and enough hooks to catch mackerel. Cline injects the song with ragged guitar lines as Tweedy, who is clearly enjoying himself, intones that “It’s all right/You won’t set the kids on fire/But I might” . Following songs like ‘Sunloathe’, the truly lovely ‘Black moon’ and the thing of beauty that is ‘Open mind’ are a trilogy of mellow Tweedy ballads that anchor the album, although it is the later ‘Rising Red Lung’ that impresses most with its haunting, ghostly guitar lines in the background.

Along the way, the sub Velvet Underground sound of the excellent ‘Dawned On Me’ starts with a classic Lou Reed riff and ends with some Nels Cline-led feedback. One slip does come in the form of ‘Capitol City’ where Tweedy revisits his Lennon and McCartney enthusiasm on a jaunty sub White Album song that is easier to admire than love. The whimsy however is quickly shattered by the preceding ‘Standing’ with its 60s organs and raw guitar rock as the band cut loose and even introduce handclaps. While the penultimate title track is inevitably overshadowed by the brilliance of the concluding ‘One Sunday Morning’, it is a punchy and jaunty song, which could have happily fitted on amongst the hazy pop of Summerteeth .

The four extra tracks include the ironic blues of ‘I Love My Label’, the slightly Mexican-tinged acoustics of the excellent ‘Message From Mid Bar’ and a slightly different version of the scintillating ‘Black Moon’, where on subsequent listens you detect a clear Elliot Smith influence. It is however the six-minute plus instrumental ‘Speak Into The Rose’ that dominates here as it harks back to ‘A Ghost Is Born’ and the pulsing electronica ‘Spiders (Kidsmoke)’ and its slowly building simple, driving rhythm and gradual layers of guitars. Five minutes in, the band basically have a great wig out but never lose control. It reminds those who ever described Wilco as ‘Dad rock’ to wash their mouths out and offer profound apologies.

Taken as a total package ‘The Whole Love’ is one of the most enjoyable Wilco albums the band have constructed. Creative freedom might be a factor as it’s their first album on their own label dBpm Records and yet again recorded in inspired comforts of home at the Chicago loft studio, which featured on the Sky Blue Sky videos. Ultimately, for long term Wilco fans this album proves that the stability of recent line-ups has finally paid off with a set of musicians who could play the spoons for 12 songs and make them sound great. Alternatively, were ‘The Whole Love’ to be your introduction to this great Chicago band you would discover an album chock full of so much music that recalls their great history that it’s almost a ‘Best Of’.