Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wilco's The Whole Love is a whole slab of awesome

Wilco is one of those bands you can never sleep on.

Nearly a decade removed from their most esteemed album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, circumstances have changed for the Chicago-based rockers. There was a time in which Wilco couldn't do anything without causing everyone to stand up and take notice.

My senior year in high school was the year A Ghost Is Born came out, and everyone was talking about that record. It was everywhere. You couldn't escape the buzz from that album if you bought real estate under a giant boulder.

But if you were one of those, like me, who soon tired of the Wilco hype, you eventually got your wish. It wouldn't be fair to say the hype died, but I don't remember the previous two albums generating the same level of hysteria we saw with Ghost.

But now it is 2011 and I've got to eat my words. I finally decided to give Wilco an in-depth listen, and I see what the big deal is. If there's a new wave of hype over the latest Wilco record, don't expect to see me run for cover. Because if there's any justice, The Whole Love should start a revolution of its own.

The Whole Love seems to strike a medium between the two extremes the band painted in the 2000s. It's certainly more level headed than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born, but is more adventurous than their last effort, Wilco (the album). The opener, "Art of Almost," builds up slowly, leaving you wondering what exactly this album has in store for you. But when the extended guitar solo kicks in, you know you're in for one hell of a ride.

As a listener who appreciates variety, The Real Love is an easy sell. This album has it all, from sprawling epics to clashing rockers and well crafted pop nuggets.

"I Might" sees the band combining pop and rock styles like second nature. You are treated to strong hooks that are punctuated by guitar pyrotechnics going off left and right. When Jeff Tweedy's voice kicks in during the chorus, I can't help but notice he sounds a bit like John Lennon.

And speaking of Beatles influence, another treat comes on "Sunloathe." It's dreary at first, but picks up as it goes along. The second half reminds me of the Abbey Road medley, particularly in regard to the harmonies and drum fills.

One fact Wilco fans should be well aware of is that there's nothing quite like the effect of a dynamic frontman. There are few tracks that better accentuate that than "Standing O," a rollicking rocker on which Tweedy confidently asserts himself -- "Maybe you've noticed I'm not afraid of everything that I've done / Maybe you've noticed I'm not the same as almost anyone."

And if you like Wilco's lyricism, "Dawned On Me," will also be high on your favorites list. I enjoy the aggressive attitude and the way the words wrap around each verse. Look at the second verse:

"I've been lost
I've been found
I've been taken by the sound"

It's simple, but dramatic when delivered the way Tweedy does it.  This is the song most deeply ingrained in my head right now.

"Black Moon" and "Rising Red Lung" are mellow, quiet, and thought provoking. They're the two songs on The Whole Love that best reflect on Wilco's alt-country roots, and they're the two songs that best represent my state of mind when I'm ready to chill out.

"Capitol City" has a jovial, bouncy, show tune-y feel to it. "Open Mind" is an emotional ballad, with lyrics that tug at your heart strings. Then you have "Born Alone," one of my personal favorites. At first glance it's your typical pop/rock gem, but near the end it gets reflective and really rocks out.

The Whole Love comes to a close with "One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)" a devastatingly vivid 12 minute chronicle on the deterioration of a relationship between father and son. Pay close attention to the lyrics and it'll produce a lump in your throat.

What makes Wilco great is the sincerity of everything they produce, coupled with the unique musical ideas that seem to turn up on each of their records. The Whole Love is the perfect album if you're looking for something refreshing, or for anyone who's a fan of great songwriting.

Score: 90/100

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