In a world where faux angst and teenie – pop anthems fill the airwaves, all I (or anybody) wants to hear is an honest man play his guitar and lull authentic tunes with his band. Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy is the Clark Kent in this situation, seeing as he he’s been at it for 20 years. Wilco is one of the few bands able to lay out seven studio albums and re-invent their music each time. Wilco’s eighth studio album, “The Whole Love”, was surrounded by hype, following their 2009 release of “Wilco (the Album)” which exposed fans to a more audacious side of Tweedy’s creativity as an artist. Tweedy pushes musical limits even further in “Whole Love”, and like the mad music–producing scientist he has come to be, creates a monster of tracks that give fans a glance at a more aged Tweedy. It’s as if the entire album is his way of looking back and moving forward as an artist and as a person in general.
The verses and choruses of “Whole Love” delve into experimentation that mirrors that of “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”, but is padded with easy listening and ironically dark melodies much like 2007’s “Sky Blue Sky”.
The opening track, “Art of Almost”, takes the listener through a transfiguration of sounds with multiple buildups. It’s sort of like the moment in the Wizard of Oz when the tornado hits and Dorothy is whisked away to another world (sort of). The song is more haunting though, (and less bizarre). The track starts out with repetitive, simplistic synthesized beats and slowly grows into a unified, orchestra of stringed instruments (the tornado), leading into Tweedy’s opening lyrics “I can’t be so far away from my wasteland, I never know when I’m with my own hands, almost…almost…”
In the last five minutes of the seven minute and 15 second track, Tweedy and the boys ditch the synth and go for a straight guitar and drum frenzied conclusion to the track, with recently added guitarist Nels Cline channeling Radiohead the entire way there.
“Art of Almost” was the tentative interlude to what came to be an honest, nostalgic album. The rest of the tracks that follow are cold and raw songs that display a re-invented version of the Wilco that won fans over circa 1995 with the release of “A.M.” Tweedy reminisces through his lyrics, showing fans that “dad rock” can be simply cool. Songs such as “Open Mind” are coated with a country-folk haze: via slow guitar riffs accompanied by Tweedy’s musky voice. “If I could shine a light on the dark and disobeying night so young, I still sway, we’re too old for cliches”, he hums.
This contrast with tracks like “Rising Red Lung”, a straightforward acoustic folk song, and the more contemporary tunes (i.e. “Whole Love” and “Art of Almost”) were seemingly awkward the first listen through. Each song roams in a different direction than the last, but it all somehow comes together in a way that showcases all of the elements Wilco fans want to hear – country, folk-rock, experimental – it’s all there in the 12 songs that make up “The Whole Love”.
Though, by the end of the album, I was longing for another track that mirrored “Art of Almost” and its shocking fuse of instrumental grandeur. There was something about that track that left hope for the rest of the album. The folk-instilled songs that followed were still pleasing, but felt so safe for what is a pretty bold album. Tweedy uses the same essentials in “The Whole Love” that are reminiscent of the first track, but still lack the attention grabbing manner of “Art of Almost”.
Most of all, the album was refreshing. Each track on “The Whole Love” was sincere in a way that makes the album worthy of listening to all the way through more than once. It captures the experimental essence of Wilco, but stays true to their aesthetic by packing in tracks that take them back to their roots.
Three out of Four Stars