The Whole Love by Wilco
The night that Wilco won their first Grammy for A Ghost is Born (2004), I was sitting in their audience at The Alabama Theater, not even old enough to purchase alcohol yet. Front man Jeff Tweedy calmly walked on stage, confirmed the award and thanked us repeatedly. The band members were gleaming, and I was gleaming with them. That night, I could feel every single track they played, and at a young age I understood my father’s description of sneaking out of the house and rushing off to a concert.
Tweedy often speaks of his listeners as “collaborators,” which usually I would write off as fluff. But I actually believe him. His level of modesty is not found in most rock bands, let alone a Grammy award winning one. Wilco is a Chicago-based Americana rock band that has kept its audience intrigued for about seventeen years. The band formed from the remnants of alt-country band Uncle Tupelo, of which Tweedy and bassist John Stirritt were the two surviving members. In 1995 Wilco released their first studio album titled A.M., and the rest is history. The newest release, The Whole Love, is their eighth and one that is a milestone for the band—the record was released on their own label, dBpm Records.
Wilco has been classified as alternative country, alternative rock, folk rock and experimental rock and are also associated with indie rock. This is quite a span of genres that seem to change from album to album. In the case of The Whole Love, several of those categories show up at once. Tweedy has said, “We try to honestly reflect what we're like. You evolve and change over 10 years, and you try and make the music reflect that.” Wilco definitely show range in their work. They are constantly reinventing themselves, which is a key factor in how they have retained listeners over such a long career.
The Whole Love opens with a 7-minute long experimental track titled “Art Of Almost” that immediately takes the listener back to the opening track of A Ghost is Born. It’s not so much that the tracks are entirely similar, but instead the contrast of Tweedy’s whispery voice against guitarist Nels Cline’s crashing guitar solo that resonates as a finale for both songs. During this track I’m reminded of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s soundtrack for the film The Social Network— the sound is slightly menacing but also purely rock n’ roll with heaps of electronica delicately woven in.
The second track, “I Might,” is reminiscent of classic pop songs off of Summerteeth (1999) like “I’m always in Love” and “Candyfloss.” “I Might” features bizarrely upbeat lyrics such as: “You won’t set the kids on fire, oh, but I might”. The 9th track, “Capitol City,” reminds me of Mermaid Avenue (a 1998 collaboration with Billy Bragg), but there is also an undeniable resemblance to Randy Newman. The album continues to change from song to song right down to the very last track titled “One Sunday Morning,” which winds the album down to something slower, a resting point. In this way, it parallels “Reservations” off of their best selling album to date Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002).
The Whole Love confirms that Wilco is one of the strangest and most interesting bands of the 21st century. Additionally, they seem to have all of the markings of a legendary rock band—make some room, Radiohead.
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