Album Review: Wilco's The Whole Love

Middle-age dudes defy everything, time included.

The first four-and-a-half minutes of The Whole Love are terrifying.

It’s not a Linda Blair spewing vomit sort of situation but more a my-dad-might-dig-this brand of horror. Images of Darius Rucker populate the mind as the opening track “Art of Almost” drags on. Then, Nels Cline steps on the overdrive and complacency becomes alacrity. 

Since  2007’s Sky Blue Sky singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy and company have basked in the halcyon glow of success, turning out comfortable mid-tempo folk ditties reflective of their indie elder-statesman status. Stability is cool but aggression and adventurousness lie at the core of Wilco’s creative fabric. Luckily both qualities make a much-needed return with the release of The Whole Love, the band’s first post-Nonesuch effort.  

“I Might,” the album’s lead single, comes on strong with top heavy acoustic guitar, fuzzed-out lead lines, and a bawdy organ riff. Comparisons to Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street” are undeniable, as Tweedy’s mysterious prose mirrors the instrumental arrogance. “You won’t set the kids on fire, oh but I might,” he taunts.
Self-realization takes folk-rock form on the contemplative “Dawned On Me”. Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche compliment Tweedy’s tumbling verse, filling the background with bristling guitar and booming toms.

“Born Alone” and “Whole Love” are of similar character, each sporting an A.M., alt-country framework shrouded in Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-era electronic grime.

As a collective work The Whole Love possesses an immense energy, achieved not by volume or pace but by a combination of kinetic melodies, compelling lyrical imagery, and an animated Jeff Tweedy. And slow-burners like “Black Moon” and “Open Mind”, while both beautiful fragments of patented Wilco melancholy, meander and eat away at the album’s energetic lode.

Urgency returns with “Standing O”, a track the encapsulates the spirit of The Whole Love. The Chicago-based sextet, anchored by a wonderfully unbridled Nels Cline, shake off the last bits of rust with some jammed-out alt fireworks. It’s “Casino Queen” reprised. 

The album concludes with the mellow, finger-picked country cut “One Sunday Morning (For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)”.

“Outside I look lived in, like the bones in a shrine,” sings Tweedy. “How am I forgiven? Oh, I’ll give it time.”

Staving off old-guy rock syndrome is one hell of a task and with The Whole Love Tweedy reassures his panicked followers that he’s up for it.

Wilco is back. 

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