It would be tempting to call Wilco prolific, were it not for the fact that making music is their job, but The Whole Love represents their 8th record in 15 years, (not including collaborations), and their first on their own record label, dBpm. That kind of busyness kind of negates the keen experimentation the band embraced at the turn of the century, or maybe it hides the fact that that’s no longer what they do. With an album every two years, the weight of anticipation is hardly crushing, and Wilco can just do what they do.
Wilco are unlikely to veer off their course in quite the same way they did back when Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was released, and their appeal and newfound status as a record label executives means that they’ll never again find themselves in that kind of situation; being dropped by their label because of the apparently unlistenableness of the disc which went on to be an internet sensation before blowing everyone’s rateometer up. Perhaps some people think that since those trailblazing days, their music has become somewhat samey, and it has to an extent. Every new record feels like a continuation from the previous, with the added bonus of the band honing their skills to near perfection. It seems for a while on The Whole Love as if Wilco are ready to take it off in another direction again, but as the record progresses Tweedy can’t help but write songs, at times simple, but always contagious, and always varied.
The Whole Love sounds terrific, as you’d expect, beautifully produced as usual. This version of Wilco has been together for nigh on seven years now, the most settled any iteration of the group has been, and it shows. Perhaps Tweedy is losing his edge or his will to eject members and fall out with them. Perhaps, in the end, it’s easier to write tunes.
Starting off with the seven and half minute ‘Art of Almost’, it sounds almost King of Limbs-y, until it takes a tempo change in half way through, a la ‘Station to Station’, to accommodate the other side of Tweedy’s art, the guitar solo. It’s in the guitar solos that Tweedy continues his sonic experimentation; of course, they’re indulgent, all guitar solos are, and this record is no different from the last few in that it’s squiggled with Jeff’s noodles.
At times, with ‘Born Alone’, the record harks back to Summerteeth, Wilco’s breakthrough album, and the country licks are always present (‘Open Mind’). ‘Capitol City’ shuffles along with a kind of rag time feel, and at other times they throw out the rock shapes like Supergrass used to. But it’s in the quieter moments where this album excels, ‘Rising Red Lung’, and the closer, ‘One Sunday Morning’, somehow 12 minutes long.
All in all, new ground here remains unbroken. But the terrain they traverse was created by them in the first place. Wilco only need ultimately to out do themselves. The fact that they have reached vaunted heights in the past doesn’t mean that they have to attempt to rewrite musical history every time they venture out, but their ability to craft and perform perfectly rounded gems, which always contain dark cornices and twisting, nervy stanzas, should never be underrated. So, if ultimately it feels as if Wilco are simply continuing along their course, praise Jesus. It’s a mighty course, and they’re really fucking good at it.