Wilco – The Whole Love

January 01, 1970

(dBpm)

 

www.wilcoworld.net

 

While a “Welcome back, Wilco!” would play unduly snarky,
there’s no denying Jeff Tweedy’s group’s last two efforts – 2007’s Sky Blue Sky and 2009’s Wilco (The Album) – were derisively
viewed by many of the faithful. “Dad Rock” was the pejorative typically cast at
both records for the ‘70s mellow rock vibe that characterized each
release. 

 

Some of that rancor stemmed from the fact that both records
felt like a repudiation of Wilco’s recent past (just as Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born alienated A.M. and Being There fans). If that’s the
case, then The Whole Love should make
long-running Wilco-ites ecstatic since this is the best and most adventurous
set of Wilco songs in nearly a decade.

 

Skittering, Radiohead-like processed beats, burbling keys,
and backward-looped guitar bits emerge from synthesizer haze on the 7-minute
opener “Art of Almost” to announce the change in direction immediately; the
3-minute-outro of Nels Cline guitar shredding over a Krautrock pulse only
confirm that we’re not in Wilco (The
Album)
-land anymore. The jaunty pop bounce of “I Might” follows, Cline’s
guitar squiggles and John Stirratt’s bass-fuzz augmenting Farfisa-powered
“doo-doo-doo” choruses and recalling Summerteeth‘s
late-night mad-scientist mixes. Tweedy even drops one of those spit-take lines
here – “you won’t set the kids on fire/but I might,” like “she begs me not
to hit her” from “She’s a Jar” – that generates controversy by blurring the
songwriter/narrator line.

 

As with other tracks here (notably the Abbey Road-flavored “Sunloathe” and syncopated pop rock of “Born
Alone”), you can’t help but picture the late Jay Bennett doodling over the
control board during his years with the band. Some of the thickest production
even feels like a memorial to the Bennett era documented — sometimes painfully
— in Sam Jones’ documentary I Am Trying
to Breaking Your Heart
.

 

But the echoes of earlier Wilco don’t end there. “Dawned on
Me” is the bubbliest pop track the band’s written since Foxtrot‘s “War on War,” and the Band-like country gospel shuffle “Capitol City” could be a Being There cut. For those who go even further back, the melancholy
“Black Dawn” even sounds like it borrows its structure from Tweedy’s “Black
Eye” (on Uncle Tupelo’s March 16-20),
but then illuminates its textures with strings, bowed-cello low-end, and
tasteful slide guitar accents.

 

It’s key to note, though, that these aren’t mere Xeroxes of
previous Wilco eras. Everything about the band on The Whole Love is tucked tight in the pocket: the songwriting feels
laser-focused; the playing is professional and evocative; the arrangements and accents compelling, judicious and – with
the exception of that outro on “Art of Almost,” which feels tacked on – always
in service of the song. “Rising Red Lung” may be a simple country shuffle
underneath (it has a dash of A.M.‘s
“Dash 7” in it as well as some of Ghost‘s
“Muzzle of Bees”), but its experimental touches — distant guitar flourishes
and synth swirls, the noises alluded to in the line “Come listen to this/it’s
buried under the hiss/and it glows” – are the expert accents of a band brimming
with confidence.

 

The album’s full-of-grace finale, “One Sunday Morning (Song
for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend),” wouldn’t justify its 12-minute run-time without
every flourish being in the right place – particularly Mikael Jorgenson’s
beautiful piano phrases, which wind around Tweedy’s smoky vocals and the simple
acoustic guitar riff  like a trellis of
blossoming vines. Written after a discussion with the author Smiley’s boyfriend
about his strict father’s edicts, the initial relief his death brought, and the
guilt and eventual acceptance that followed, the song recalls Tweedy’s gorgeous
casting of Woody’s Guthrie’s “Remember the Mountain Bed” from the Mermaid Avenue-era. And as the song’s
outro drifts off into the ether inviting reflection, it feels very much like
Wilco has brought the curtain down on its best record.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Whole
Love” “I Might” “Dawned on Me” “Rising Red Lung” JOHN SCHACHT

 

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