If one was to Google the band Wilco, without knowing anything about them, the different genres the band is listed as – from alternative to indie rock to folk to (even) experimental country – a person might be curious to how, if it was even possible, to incorporate these different styles in one unique sound. However, that is just what Wilco manages to accomplish with their eighth studio album The Whole Love – blending the variety of musical influences with a dash of experimentation and poignant lyrics.
One of the bands that emerged from the 90s alt rock revolution, Wilco was formed in Chicago and named themselves after the aviation radio voice acronym for “will comply”. Despite being favorites of most music critics, the band has gone through many setbacks both professionally and personally since its creation. This includes being dropped by Warner Brothers Records in 2001 and lead singer and songwriter Jeff Tweedy’s painkiller addiction in 2004. In the face of these issues however, the band was able to release two of their greatest albums (2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and 2004’s A Ghost Is Born), and continued to make great music overall – with this latest release being no exception.
The new album starts off with the heavily experimental guitar-laden sounds of “Art of Almost”. While it is certainly a good starting point and an interesting showcase for the band’s instrumental talents, it is not one of the best songs on the album. That title would be best shared by the tracks “Dawned On Me”, “Open Mind”, and the incredible end piece of “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)”. “Dawned On Me” proves again Tweedy’s somewhat simplistic but emotionally driven and touching writing style. On the track he sings “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” over an up-tempo beat that occasionally uses whistling (somehow it works, I promise). The band’s folk/country roots are well on display in “Open Mind” – a lovelorn ballad in which the emotion in Tweedy’s voice is so thick it could not be more evident if it pounded the listener in the face. Much like a closing pitcher put in to finish the game with a solid win, the long – in both title and time (over 12 minutes!) – “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)” finishes the album on a solid note. Written about the death of his father, Tweedy reflects on life and religion against a melodic backdrop that seems to be the exact definition of the word “bittersweet” formatted into song. When he sings “Bless my mind I miss/ Being told how to live” one can sense the deep loss that permeates the song.
On the contrast, some of Wilco’s signature experimental styles can be emphasized in such ways that they become detrimental to the music and, for lack of a better word, cheesy. This is evidenced in a song such as “Capital City” whose tune reminds me more at times of a song emitting from an ice cream truck instead of something written by Grammy-winning musicians. Also the repetition of lyrics on the song “I Might” seems to extend to the point where it is borderline obnoxious. Overall, the main critique one would have to make of this album is that it is not as significant or as groundbreaking for Wilco as something like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was. However, that does not mean it is not vastly leaps better than many albums that have come out recently or not worth a listen to at all. In fact, it is because of albums like this that Wilco continues to solidify their reputation for consistently producing great works of music. So while other early 90’s bands may fall by the wayside (cough cough Pavement, R.E.M.), Wilco continues to show the “Love”.