Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wilco - The Whole Love

There are two tracks that immediately stand out on Wilco's eighth and latest studio album, The Whole Love, and they stand out both for being terrific songs and also for being different from the rest of the album.  It seems a shame to write just one review and have my thoughts on those two songs jumbled up with my thoughts on the rest of the album, but what can you do?

Wilco has been called "The American Radiohead," a designation that lost any meaning a long time ago, but is strangely apt on album opener "The Art of Almost," which starts with feedback and skittering electronic percussion that could easily have been cribbed from any of Radiohead's recent effort.  Like "Ashes of American Flags," the opener to Wilco's magnum opus Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, "The Art of Almost" features cryptic lyrics sung understatedly in a catchy melody over a backdrop of disintegrating chaos.  Drums drop in and out, strings rise and fall, organ chords set a spare mood.  It's a great track ... but it's not really what The Whole Love is all about.

Album closer "One Sunday Morning" (enigmatically subtitled "Song For Jane Smiley's Boyfriend") is another great track.  It's a quiet tune, backed by an acoustic guitar riff with a mirrored piano line and delicate brushed percussion.  The song features one of singer / songwriter Jeff Tweedy's best vocal performances; it's understated but you can feel the emotion underlying it.  The lyrics are cryptic, evoking images of loss but not of grief, of skepticism but not of judgment, of nostalgia but not regret.  The song goes on for twelve minutes ("This is how I'll tell it / Oh, but it's long," Tweedy sings) and it has no chorus or bridge, but somehow it never gets old.  Again, it's a terrific track ... but it's not really what The Whole Love is about.

So what is The Whole Love about?  Simply put, it's the group's poppiest statement since Summerteeth. "Sunloathe" is the band's most Beatles-esque track, featuring harmonies on the chorus and some George-Harrison-style guitar.  The title track is a bouncy jaunt keyed by John Stirratt's groovy bass line.  (Stirratt is just a monster on this album; the bass sets the mood on each track, from the snaking groove of "Standing O" to the gentle country bump of "Black Moon" to the slides of "Born Alone.")  "Born Alone" features depressing existential lyrics set against an upbeat verse and an anthemic wordless chorus.  "Standing O" is rocking power pop in the traditional of some of Big Star's finest moments.  "Dawned On Me" features a bop-along chorus that rivals "Kamera" and "Heavy Metal Drummer" as one of Wilco's catchiest moments.  "The Whole Love" is a treat for anyone who enjoys pop, and it's nice to see they can still bring it when they go this route.

I'm a Wilco fan and have bought each of their albums.  This is their best effort since at least A Ghost Is Born, maybe since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and one of the best records of 2011.

Wilco official site

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