A Ghost is Reborn The Whole Love: Wilco’s Successful Return



Mike Knerr

Fans of Wilco rejoice! Jeff Tweedy and co. have put several pedestrian albums firmly in the rearview and responded to the somewhat lackluster Wilco (The Album) with their best effort since their trademark 2002 album, Yan­kee Hotel Foxtrot. Wilco’s eighth studio album should be a relief to anyone who was afraid that the alternative rockers might have been enter­ing a general decline. The Whole Love takes about two seconds to dispel such notions. The unpredictably syncopated rhythm that opens the first track, “Art of Almost,” heralds a return to experimental glory for the band, yet songs such as “Dawned on Me,” “Born Alone” and the single “I Might” are reminders that Wilco is ultimately a roots rock band at heart.

In some ways, this album’s defining feature is its inability to stay in one place; a range of styles, textures and moods are conjured in such a way that the net effect is not chaos, but a purposeful progression through the vicissi­tudes of Tweedy’s psyche. The carefree frolic of “Capitol City” is followed up by the aggressive power chords of “Standing O.” Yet immedi­ately thereafter, Wilco backs off with the in­trospective “Rising Red Lung,” a song “as inti­mate as a kiss/over a phone.” This progression feels entirely natural, more like a journey than a poorly-spliced mixtape.

The entire album is very accessible, but it is neither cautious nor safe. The experimental mo­ments peacefully inhabit the same space as the hooks and melodies to the point where they re­cede into the background; indeed the most ambi­tious details can go entirely unnoticed. Very few albums both open and close with a long song. In this case, the two serve as perfect bookends to the rest of the album. Each is ambitious in its own way, with “Art of Almost” making more of a sonic statement and “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)” making a lyr­ical one, featuring the same guitar line repeated throughout the song but with the focus on the unexpectedly deep subject matter. This song is perhaps the most poignant on the entire album, and allows it to end on a gentle, but subtly un­settling note, just as “Art of Almost” began on a static-blurred and overtly unsettling note. The opening and closing tracks are in many ways em­blematic of the entire album in their scope and ambition as well as their demonstration of the range of its musical and lyrical content.

First-time listeners will likely immediately latch onto the first single, “I Might,” whose in­fectiously playful organ will probably linger in the mind even after the album has concluded. Its sunny pop evokes the 60s, but its lyrical material places it firmly in the present day. Such dichoto­mies are there to be found throughout the album – if the listener so desires. The biggest internal contrast may be “Born Alone,” which also ap­pears bright and fun on the surface, but masks more complex lyrics, “I have heard the wall and worried of the gospel/Ferried Faust across the void.” As in this song, the album allows listeners to dig as deep or as shallow as they want.

The Whole Love is an album that thrives on its diversity, but doesn’t content itself merely with a variegated sonic landscape; each song is penned with a purpose, with nothing excessive. Tweedy is able to swing from achingly tender moments to a more carefree and raucous idiom with ease, but more importantly, with purpose. Its delicate balance of ambition and fun gives it a broad appeal and ensures that it will both hook you in immediately and grow with time, a trait to which relatively few albums today can lay claim.

Contact Mike Knerr at [email protected]