Most of the reviews I’ve read of Wilco’s The Whole Love, released today, have compared the album to Wilco’s previous records. And while I do see the purpose of reviewing an album in this manner, I’m going to refrain from doing so this time for two reason:
- While a band’s full catalog is definitely an important thing to consider when looking at any album, each piece of music offered should be taken as is. Thus, since this was presented as an album, we”l do our very best to review it as an album, independent of anything else.
- Despite my love for this band, my main focus has always been on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (which is, I guess, like someone saying they’re a Beatles fan because they liked Abbey Road). I loved Sky Blue Sky and even think Wilco (the album) was brilliant as well, but I can’t really properly review this album in light of all of this band’s work because I simply have not mastered it well enough.
That said, The Whole Love is a magical album, and it’s pleasant to see this band’s sound age well with time, without losing any of the edge that they’ve so artfully cultivated over the years.
The album opens with “The Art of Almost,” an intense rocker featuring a stupefying beat by drummer Glen Kotche which swells and builds, with layers of guitar, keys, and vocals, culminating with a let-loose solo by guitar extraordinaire courtesy of Nels Cline that would make a Wilco believer out of anyone. “I Might” continues with 60s influenced psychedelic pop sound along with Tweedy’s lyrics that make little to no sense, but lack nothing for creativity: “Magna Carta’s on a Slim Jim, but, brother/Sonic sound with a cold clean tote is a mother,” as well as the always great suggestion to not “set the kids on fire.”
Tweedy battles depression and ruined relationships over the course of the album as well. “Sunloathe” lulls us back to sleep with it’s oozing sound, as Tweedy seems to be battling something (depression? illness?) as he second guesses his most natural instincts, by hating the sun, his memories, and threatens to end his life. “Dawned On Me” is an upbeat rocker which shows us a less depressed Tweedy, who’s now content with the sun” “to the East and the West/the sun rises and sets/that’s the sun at it’s best”, in an ode to a past lover, with whom he may fall for again in the future: “I can’t help it if I fall in/ love with you again I’m calling/ just to let you know it dawned on me.” We continue in the vein of odes to past lovers with “Black Moon,” one of the most beautiful songs on the album: “I’m waiting for you/ waiting forever/ on a black mountain.”
“Born Alone” is another inane lyrical one. which borders on poetical genius: I am the driver at the wheel of the order/ marching circles at the gate/ my eyes have seen the fury/ so flattered by fate.” “Open Mind” is a Dylan-esque ballad reminiscent of “Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again.” “Capitol City” feels like a summertime carnival or a drive-in movie: buttery popcorn, cotton candy, warm nights, and good times.
The album closes with the twelve minute “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend).” The tape was rolling as Wilco sat down to learn the chords to this one, and they jammed on it for over twelve minutes. After hearing the tape back, they decided to put this raw version on the album, and Tweedy wrote the remaining lyrics and laid them on top. There’s something magical about this track that gives is a beautifully nostalgic feeling that tugs at the heart, and makes the listener sit back and catch their breath. The simple chords and slight piano riff perfectly accompany Tweedy’s whispered lyrics throughout this one. Lyrically, this song may be about a father losing a son (“one Sunday morning/ oh, one son is gone”), a son losing a father (“I am cold for my father/ frozen underground”), or a religious person’s battle with faith and doubt (“I said it’s your God I don’t believe in/ no, your Bible can’t be true”). Either way, the lyrics seem to both comfort in the way memories only can – Tweedy reminds us of pain and loss, but it’s through memories that he does so, in the dreamy quality of this track which seems to (and does) go on forever.
The emotions that Tweedy presents lyrically in this album are deep, silly, profound, sad, and memorial. Instead of writing pure poetry or meaningless lyrics, Tweedy makes this album truly connectable by sharing emotions that all of us feel. This is The Whole Love‘s greatness and this is why the album is so darn good. It’s musically different and exciting, with lyrics that, without sounding cheesy or cliche, we all can understand and relate to. Well done, Wilco. Well done indeed.
Wilco – Art of Almost
Wilco – One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)