Sunday, September 04, 2011

Wilco's "The Whole Love"

Wilco's journey to one of America's premier rock bands has been an unusual one. Rising from the ashes of the seminal alternative country band UNCLE TUPELO, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy has been on a mission to see just how odd and obscure he could make his country twang sound. The first three Wilco records play like more commercial versions of the Tupelo sound. Then came "Yankee Foxtrot Hotel". With "Hotel" Tweedy and his revolving band of musicians began melding the rock sound with spacier elements to create atmospheric epics that featured odd instrumentation and more obscure wordsmithing. This continued with "A Ghost is Born" before a slight return to earth with their last record "Sky Blue Sky."

Wilco's latest record, "The Whole Love" continues to seek a middle ground between the original work and the more grandiose dreams of the more recent output. Opening with the 7 minute clicky "Art of Almost" the listener prepares themselves for another listening foray into the unknown. But Tweedy offers us a curveball with the fuzzy bass driven "I Might" as the second song. "Might" plays off like a vintage 60's rock song. "Sunloathe" seems like something from the BEACH BOYS collection of oddities with it's piano tinkling and soft vocals. "Dawned on Me" revels in it's feedback before settling into a nice rhythm and has the sound of a radio single from the heyday of AM radio. "Black Moon" has a dark acoustic guitar line to lead us through Tweedy's song of searching for truth. "Born Alone" glides along a rat-a-tat drum beat before the guitar picks up the track for the ride. The title track, "The Whole Love", is sunny number about a man who knows he is hard to get along with. "One Sunday Morning (song for Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)", could easily scare a listener off at over 12 minutes but it is well worth the investment. Tweedy sounds like a little Bob Dylan ish here as the song seems to wander around a acoustic guitar until it settles in. The band forsakes any studio trickery and plays it straight. What comes is a jam feeling as if they recorded it on the porch of some old southern home in the last summer.

Wilco's latest doesn't have the ambition of "Hotel" or "Ghost" and in many ways is a nod to their past as Uncle Tupelo. Those hoping for the sonic soundscapes of those records will be a bit disappointed. But those of us who take our music with a sense of authenticity will find the record gaining in stature with every listen.

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