It is one of those cherished musical events in life when you hear an album for the first time and it sounds perfect, like the album you’ve always been waiting for the artist to make, if you were able to imagine it in the first place. The last year has been kind, with the release of the Decemberists The King is Dead, Gillian Welch’s The Harrow & The Harvest, P.J. Harvey’s Let England Shake and now the latest release from Wilco, The Whole Love.
Wilco fans have been in a bit of a holding pattern lately. Wilco (the Album) was not critically acclaimed by diehard Wilco fans. But it was fun. Just look at the cover art of the camel on the deck near Mader’s classic German restaurant in Milwaukee, with the birthday hats and cake. Also, who would have the nerve to put Wilco (the Song) on an album? I’ll give them credit for that, and understood the farcical nature of it after seeing them debut it on Stephen Colbert, when the lines ‘Wilco love you baby’ became ‘Stephen loves you baby’. There were some fine moments. Black Bull Nova was as intense of a song as Jeff Tweedy has ever written.
This album is different, and is bound to get more critical acclaim from fans and the media alike. I love how many diverse musical roots come together in it. I hear influences from recent collaborations with Mavis Staples and Neil Finn, as well as many threads reaching back to earlier Wilco and Uncle Tupelo. I was reminded several times of the sounds of Summerteeth, which was released more than 10 years ago. It also is the most Beatlesque album they’ve ever made. Listen to the guitar riffs on the dramatic finish to 'Born Alone', for example, that reminded me of the end of 'I Am the Walrus'. 'The Whole Love' reaches from those early roots to songs you perhaps couldn’t imagine them doing before, including the opener, ‘Art of Almost’.
‘Art of Almost’ may surpass ‘At Least that’s What You Said’ as the best start to Wilco album. That’s a tough call, as those who share my love for the latter will understand. On 'Art of Almost', the techno beat that comes in early might make some long term fans worried, but they won’t be by the end of the song. By then, with sounds ranging from vintage moog flourishes to guitar god guitar shredding, I was loving the messy breakdown nature of it all. Listen to John Stirratt’s bass on this song, and you’ll wonder what school he attended lately, as I’ve never heard him sound like this. He really shines on this album, with his lines on the next song, ‘I Might’, a high point of the album. I kept thinking of Paul McCartney’s forward bass on Revolver and Rubber Soul.
An album that opens so well also closes well, with ‘One Sunday Morning’. This is the song that I would want Jeff Tweedy write, if I could imagine it in the first place. It ties it all together, beyond just this album, going back to his roots. Everyone I’ve talked to who has heard this song brings it down to one word: “beautiful”. It’s the shortest twelve minute song I’ve ever heard, and I wanted to start it right back over from the beginning as soon as it ended.
As for the other 10 songs in between, there is an ocean of sound and verse that awaits you. Have fun with it.
Wilco's The Whole Love will be released on September 27th.