’s The Whole Love
continues in the vein of the band’s last few records thematically, focusing on reflective, melancholy relationship songs. Those who loved the band for their sonic adventurousness on 2000s albums like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
and A Ghost Is Born
might be a touch disappointed by the new disc’s lack of overt experimentation, but frontman Jeff Tweedy has produced yet another collection of gently beautiful tunes that only occasionally possess the edge of earlier work.
More Melody, Less Sonic Gimmicks
Since 2007’s Sky Blue Sky
, Wilco have worried less about being an envelope-pushing indie band and instead concentrated on sunshine-soaked love songs that bring together country, laidback ‘70s rock, and semi-sprawling guitar jams. This period, which also includes 2009’s Wilco (The Album)
, has been criticized for its supposed lack of ambition, but in truth these albums have shown Tweedy and the rest of his sextet doing away with a lot of the aural gimmicks of the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
era. Consequently, The Whole Love
might seem a lot more “easy listening” and playful than Wilco’s more acclaimed works, but it’s such a consistently melodic and thoughtful collection that it’s hard to complain.
Compact, Memorable Tunes
The Whole Love is book-ended by its two longest tracks, the seven-minute opener “Art of Almost” and the 12-minute finale “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend).” Both allow the group, particularly MVP guitarist Nels Cline, to stretch out musically without falling victim to self-indulgent noodling. But in between those two songs, the rest of the album’s 10 cuts hover around the four-minute mark, resulting in a suite of compact, melodic numbers that rarely extend beyond the group’s already well-established sonic template. The buoyant “Dawned on Me” recalls Summerteeth’s poppy surface, “Open Mind” might have fit nicely on the early-morning vibe of Being There, and the lovelorn, acoustic “Rising Red Lung” brings to mind the stripped-down elegance of the group’s Mermaid Avenue records. Consequently, this is an album that feels both familiar and fresh.
Honest Love Songs
Though Wilco turn up the volume every once in a while on The Whole Love, this is a largely lilting, introspective record. Sixteen years removed from their first album, Wilco don’t have much of the rambunctious spark that marked their early discs. Instead, Tweedy writes about regrets and long-term relationships from a wistful, sad-eyed perspective, bringing in piano, strings and the occasional sound effect when the moment calls for it. Tweedy has long shown an ability to dramatize domestic anguish with genuine honesty, and on The Whole Love this tendency pops up in some of the album’s more memorable tracks. The lead single “I Might” boasts a keyboard-driven groove, but the song’s lyrics detail what sounds like a married couple’s argument, including the alarming proposition of one of them “set[ting] the kids on fire.” Later on “Capitol City,” the narrator talks long-distance to his small-town girl about his adventures in the big city. Throughout The Whole Love there’s a sense of snapshots of real love stories being brought to candid, evocative life.
Wilco Go Their Own Way
If The Whole Love
doesn’t feel as groundbreaking or cathartic as some of Wilco’s other work, it’s an album that (like Sky Blue Sky
) tries to make compelling music out of weary-but-wise contentment. That’s a tricky thing to do, opening the door to critics who will accuse Tweedy of becoming a boring grownup, but The Whole Love
generates much of its power from its skill at juxtaposing gorgeous melodies and worried sentiments. That dichotomy runs across these 12 songs, giving the material an edge you may miss at first. A decade ago, Wilco were looked at as a possible American answer to Radiohead
, but since then they’ve set aside the sonic noise for a straight-from-the-heart romanticism that’s very much their own design. They may not be the Next Big Thing anymore, but they sound quite happy doing their own thing.
'The Whole Love' - Best Tracks:
“Dawned on Me” (Purchase/Download
“I Might” (Purchase/Download
“Open Mind” (Purchase/Download
“Born Alone” (Purchase/Download
“Rising Red Lung” (Purchase/Download
Release date – September 27, 2011