On The Whole Love, Wilco isn’t dealing in portions or halves. As the title suggests, they’re aiming for something far more complete. To that end, the Chicago stalwarts’ eighth studio album brings to mind a more expansive version of their 1999 palate cleanser, Summerteeth, an album characterized by its big, colorful flourishes and broad emotional scope.
Nearly all of Wilco’s best albums have opened with jarringly oblique tracks (“At Least That’s What You Said,” “Misunderstood,” etc.), which makes the dissonant clangs and robotic wobbles that introduce “The Art of Almost,” a seven-minute-plus nervous breakdown that easily stands alongside the band’s best un-welcome mats, feel oddly reassuring. What follows is a series of ear-worming, AOR deconstructions that find Wilco reconnecting with their adventurous side, which we’ve seen precious little of since 2004’s A Ghost Is Born.
The band flirts with vaudeville on “Capital City,” embraces woozy psychedelia on “Sunbathe,” and dabbles in doo-wop on the lovely title track. And fans who’ve grown impatient with Wilco’s sleepier recent output will be pleased to know that The Whole Love contains a number of outright rockers—most notably, lead single “I Might,” which finds frontman Jeff Tweedy ominously threatening to “set the kids on fire.” The real attention grabber here, though, is John Stirratt’s bassline—a distorted, near-menacing rumble that drives the track through its fits of stammering organ, wistful xylophone, and searing guitar.
The Whole Love‘s finest moment arrives at the very end of the album with the heart-wrenching folk ballad “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend),” on which Tweedy bleakly describes the tormented relationship between a father and son for over 12 entrancing minutes: “In time we thought I would kill him/Oh, but I didn’t know how.”
Following a string of enjoyable but uninspired releases on Nonesuch Records, The Whole Love is Wilco’s first album under their own dBpm imprint, and this newfound independence appears to have rejuvenated the band’s experimental spirit: The Whole Love easily represents the Wilco’s most adventurous and fully realized work in years.