Wilco’s records are highly over-analyzed by fans and each critic alike. They deserve time, patience, equal parts of entertainment as well as contemplation. They’re a fine American, Midwestern wine, beyond rare, and capable of a few forgivable releases that don’t seep in so well after some time (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot / Kicking Television / Wilco The Album). Yes, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is not aging well, especially compared to it’s predecessors (A.M. / Being There / Mermaid Avenues 1 & 2 / Summerteeth) but that’s another article open for an argument that many die hard Wilco/Tupelo fans will side with me on; and many of the newbies will yell foul on. Warning hipsters, you will lose the argument. Moving on.
The Whole Love by Wilco, Chicago’s beloved little art-bar-band, finds Jeff Tweedy and company returning to playful recording territory that’s very reminiscent of the Jay Bennett-Wilco years, with a few post-Yankee hiccups. Alluded to already above, each new Wilco record gets the microscope and pre-ejaculate critique upon it’s release by a die-hard fan base and music critics alike. The Whole Love is no different, but with a little time and repeat playings, a formula becomes apparent that we, the fans (I’m no critic), have definitely heard before throughout their career and incarnations.
The Formula | The Whole Love (Song) | ‘All This History Is Just a Mystery To Me’ – The Wilco Reference
1. Epic opener, slow n’ stoned, obtuse lyrics and music, crescendo | Art of Almost | See Misundertood and Sunken Treasure from Being There, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and At Least That’s What You Said from A Ghost Is Born.
2. Snotty, jangly pop songs questionably released as singles in an effort to grab new fans but failing to do so, ironically, perfectly | I Might | Box Full of Letters from A.M., Monday, from Being There, Can’t Stand It from Summerteeth, and War on War from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
3. Buried gems, fragile acoustic ruminations tucked between subtle garage-pop rocker songs, piled on and too good to be ignored | Born Alone, Open Mind, Standing O, | Passenger Side and Dash 7 from A.M., all of ‘Being There’ to put it bluntly-
Let’s stop there— there’s a formula, more than plenty John Sebastian (Loving Spoonful) nods, and I can’t give it all away as I feel newbies have to discover it on their own. It’s an obvious track listing equation, and it’s ok because I love this band even when I want to hate them, I love Jeff Tweedy’s songwriting, I love every band member that crosses Wilco’s path for better or worse. There is only one professional American band that can get away with a formula at this point in their long-running career compared to other American rock entities (Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam), and it’s Wilco.
The Whole Love is as close as it gets to picking up the creative pace of an incarnation of Wilco that matches the youth and excitement of pre-Yankee recordings. Particularly Being There. Much of this feeling in the production of the record is due to Patrick Sansone’s contributions as a co-producer— every note has more color, John Stirrat’s bass has more depth, and Nels Cline’s freak outs on guitar are more prevalent- though, give us more Nels, please. All of this helps cover up Tweedy’s ability to be lyrically transparent when he wants to be, and obtuse combined with utter nonsense, in one sitting. Only Jeff Tweedy can get away with great, self-loathing, confessions like, I know I won’t be the last cold captain tied to a mast on the title song, The Whole Love, along with, Sadness is my luxury…. Loneliness postponed on Born Alone; to be offset by poetic gibberish like, It’s in the .. everybody…Let it taste let it go…I don’t know… bad shaving and low low slow mo on I Might. For as many golden lyrical confessions that Tweedy makes, there’s equal amounts of enjoyable poetic/phonetic shit to sift through. Very Malkmus of him. Very, very, Malkmus for the record’s better.
This is the finest outing to date by this incarnation of Wilco’s lineup but it has it’s lulls; Black Moon and Rising Red Lung. They hold back this record from achieving a knockout status with repeat listens. Even more frustrating is hearing a B-Side/Outtake (Message From Mid-Bar) that is superior to the songs included in the final track list; but now I’m being a die hard snob..
All is forgiven over The Whole Loves lulls by the record’s end because the outro, One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend), covers up for it’s subtle letdowns. It’s so transcendent a recording that it covers up many loose ends in the Wilco canon since Bennett’s forced departure and untimely death in 2009. Containing a simple melody that could travel for hours, it’s Jeff Tweedy’s most defining moment as a songwriter, officially, emotionally, moving him artistically past the Fararr/Bennett/and Yankee era benchmarks. As it focuses on the ruminations of life, death, fathers, sons, it also serves artistic respect to his latest, and longest standing, incarnation of Wilco. It could go on for hours, it’s that good a song. After many repeat listens, it could also serve as a coming to peace with the past and moving on for it’s narrator; be it you, me, Jeff Tweedy, anyone. ‘One Sunday Morning’ is a reconciliation of sorts with the past and the present, and then it’s over, like the memory of a loved one, the melody lingers, looping, and never to be forgotten soon.
I can’t wait for the next Wilco record; will it be the traditional country record I’ve been waiting my whole life for from Mr. Tweedy? Is he ready for what he has done best since the days of Belleville and Tupelo? No? Will it be the garage rocker, no overdubs? Will it be another sneaky Loving Spoonful dose of Randy Newman influenced classical pop? Will it all be covered in dare to be different modern noise, to hide the uncomfortable melodies we all listen for and find comfort in anyway? Who cares, each Wilco record deserves your utmost attention, for they are an American treasure.
As always, I can’t wait to here where they go next.
AW | Andy Whorehall