It’s hard to say anything about The Whole Love that has not already been said about something Wilco has already produced.
I don’t mean that as a slight to the album, but rather as a compliment. Among many reasons, The Whole Love works so well because it incorporates successful elements from all of the music Wilco has made in their 17 years as a band.
From the beginning the listener is treated to a hearty dose of experimentalism circa Yankee Hotel Foxtrot with “Art of Almost.” With fiery drumming and raging guitars, this song is perfectly suited to introduce Wilco’s eighth studio album because it sets the tone for the vast creativity to follow.
Part of what makes “Art of Almost” so special is Nels Cline’s phenomenal guitar work. This is never more beautiful than when the song breaks down to a steady snare beat and background distortion before roaring back to life with what can only be described as shredding guitar.
Though his effort is never more evident than on the first song, Cline’s guitar work is always present on The Whole Love. Rather than blistering in the foreground, his work often subtly paints the background, adding depth and character to each song.
On the title track his backwards delayed riffs pair masterfully with Jeff Tweedy’s gentle falsetto and acoustic strumming. With additional guitar work from Pat Sansone adding to the overall beauty of the song, “The Whole Love” may be my favorite song on the album.
It’s hard to definitively declare a favorite, however, because the album has so many songs that leave a lasting impression. Just as Tweedy and Cline excel on the title track, John Stirratt’s bass line makes “Born Alone” so intriguing. Likewise, Mikael Jorgenson’s tinkling piano scale turns the plaintive chords of “One Sunday Morning” into the best album closer since “Reservations.”
“One Sunday Morning” is titled perfectly because it sounds like Sunday morning music: a simple song, set to a beautiful melody, moving slowly (but never dragging) through 12 minutes. It picks up on what made Sky Blue Sky so enjoyable for me and reminds me why I still want to listen to that album on lazy days.
“Capital City” sounds like a Wilco version of “Yellow Submarine” and “Sunloathe” is somewhat reminiscent of “In My Life.” These songs echo the ’60s pop that Wilco did so well on Summerteeth, but more accurately they resemble those great late-’60s Beatles albums because, like the Beatles at that time, Wilco is a group of talented multi-instrumentalists who devoted themselves to making a challenging and creative album.
For many reasons Wilco was successful at creating just that: The Whole Love is a wonderfully composed and executed album that is certainly Wilco’s best since A Ghost is Born.