With 16 years of albums filled with everything from soft country spiked with bits of catchy pop flare, to heavily experimental guitar and synthesizer solo, there was little way of knowing what to expect from Wilco’s newest album.
Thanks to full-length previews released by the band, the suspense is over.
“The Whole Love” brings back the experimental rock sound, complete with long solos that sound almost like an impromptu jam session from a group of guys that know each other’s style well.
Yet, there’s a delightful variety in the album’s lineup—songs range from bright, poppy and summer-esque to slow reflective pieces that seem to carry so much of weight of the world on their shoulders.
The contrast, rather than being an off-putting mix of ups-and-downs, seems to reflect the reality of life: not every day can be a catchy pop tune. There are mournful ballad days as well.
It was a wise choice—amid today’s trend of stripped-down folk and countless, indistinguishable indie-rock groups, their album stands out. It’s a refreshing breakaway from the typical refrain-oriented and sing -or play- along songs we’ve been getting lately.
“The Whole Love” opens with the lengthy, yet captivating song “Art of Almost.” It works like an overture for the rest of the album, warning that they’re going to throw in some unexpected hooks, change it up just when you think you can start humming along, and keep you in eager anticipation of what’s coming next.
After their opening anthem, Wilco moves into one of the album’s many feel-good pop songs. If there is one thing “The Whole Love” does well, it’s these upbeat little ditties.
“I Might” features a guitar riff that you’ll be humming for days afterwards, while “Capitol City” brings to mind some good old Randy Newman (composer of Toy Story’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”). The boys actually break into a whistle in the optimistic “Dawn on Me.” “Born Alone,” despite its dreary lyrics (“I was born to die alone”), will have you tapping your toes and nodding your head like a fool.
The album has its share of stripped down, somber songs as well. “Sunloathe,” although featuring bubbly piano and percussion patterns, leaves you with a haunting, saddened feel at the end.
“Rising Red Lung,” a light and laidback number, works effectively by featuring only the lovely voice of lead singer Jeff Tweedy and soft back-up music, and feels lighter and more raw than the rest of the album, as if Tweedy is taking a few minutes off away from the band to think to himself.
The title track, “Whole Love,” is a great mixture of all the album’s strengths: opening like a sweet country tune, switching quickly into catchy guitar and xylophones for awhile and ending with a soft electronic fade out. It’s an up-beat answer to “Art of Almost,” but it’s close to the end of the album, by which time you’ll be ready to appreciate its complexities.
“One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)” closes out the album with some of Wilco’s most mournful lyrics to date. Spanning more than 12 minutes, the song ends the upbeat album with a state of reflection on the past.
“The Whole Love,” although a beautiful and intricate album, may not please every Wilco fan.
Some fans will surely long for the band’s countrified sound found in 2006’s “Sky Blue Sky,” while others are sure to miss the strength their lyrics have carried in previous albums.
Nonetheless, “The Whole Love” proves Wilco’s strong musicianship and ability to adapt to the times. Small snapshots of Wilco’s previous sounds and phases are hidden within their newer, cheerier pop sound, but if listened to closely, will be easy and pleasing to pick out.
Whether you’re a fan of the classic Wilco sound, or a new listener, “The Whole Love” will leave you pleasantly surprised, if given the chance