By their own amazingly high standards Wilco’s last album - 2009's 'Wilco (The Album)' - was somewhat disappointing, so I am pleased to report that 'The Whole Love' is a really fine effort and a return to form. Rather than simply replay the successful Wilco formula, the album embraces an experimental approach that explores new sounds and textures, putting their collective creative talents to good use.
It’s particularly nice to hear Glen Kotche, their brilliantly idiosyncratic drummer, well to the front of the mix, and guitarist Nels Cline makes lots of trademark noise across the whole spectrum of song styles. Main man Jeff Tweedy is also on fine form with a tremendous vocal performance – his best for quite a while.
In fact the album exceeds my expectations because the pre-release of 'I Might' showcased probably the weakest song of the 12 featured, since it’s really the only one to suggest that Wilco might not have moved on that much. Opener 'Art Of Almost' is a much stronger statement and at just over 7 minutes it twists and turns to a guitar driven conclusion that takes Wilco to the edges of freeform. 'Dawned On Me' has some whistling – always risky I think – but over some screeching guitar lines it works surprisingly well.
The album is exceptionally well put together with a sensitive production, which is multi-layered but gives each line breathing space. So it sounds complex, clean and bright all at the same time – like a late era Beatles album but with a 21st century sensibility. Wilco have such an air of confidence about them that sometimes that can overwhelm the content but here they’ve got the balance right with a delicate album peppered with great songs that are recognisably Wilco, yet show creative evolution and a desire still to take risks and push the boundaries.
When you’ve made as many albums as Wilco, its only natural that songs like 'Open Mind', 'Capitol City' and 'Born Alone' reference the Wilco heritage and yet they don’t sound like veterans going through the motions. Whilst songs like 'Sunloathe' and 'Black Moon' are amongst their very best.
Overall, 'The Whole Love' has a restrained atmosphere and is perhaps summed up by the quite wonderful 12 minute closer 'One Sunday Morning' – such a simple idea that still holds the attention until the whole tale is told. These guys know their job and they make making music seem as easy as falling off a log, without being complacent or lazy. Quite a trick.
STREAM: Wilco - I Might by antirecords
'The Whole Love' is available to purchase at your local retailer, iTunes, Amazon.co.uk etc.