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Wilco - The Whole Love

Bells, whistles and electronic washes.

Wilco? Are they still going? If you put out a self-titled as a seventh album in 15 years, you could call that a neat ending and hang up your lumberjack shirt. Yet here they are, only two years after ‘Wilco (The Album)’, straining at the leash and carrying doggedly on. Great stuff, but which Wilco are we dealing with here? The alt.country-moving-towards-pop chaps of the first five years? The maverick sonic explorers of ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ and ‘A Ghost Is Born’, riddled with the spirit of Jim O’Rourke? Or the good old boys of ‘Sky Blue Sky’ and that self-titled effort, entering their dotage with decent songs and a whopping great lack of spark?

Well, wouldn’t you know, it’s a dash of everything – and a glint of spark too. Deceptive in a way, the album is sandwiched by two monsters, seven minutes of creepy skank shifting into hard-nosed axe frenzy on opener ‘Art Of Almost’ and a whole dozen of the beautiful seeping bluegrass ballad ‘One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)’, but much of the meat in between is conventional. In the sense that it doesn’t go batshit krautrock anyway. In other senses it’s a whole lot of fun as ‘I Might ’ rides Wurlitzer and thumping drums to go Northern Soul and ‘Capitol City’ relaxes into a jaunty, courtly old-time rag like spiritual forebears The Band.

Jeff Tweedy’s much the same as ever, balancing his familiar lyrical mix of the romantic – ‘I could only dream of the dreams we’d share/Our hearts would be entwined’ on the weary, delicate ‘Open Mind’ – and the scything – ‘Why can’t you see you look funny to me? ’ is one of the less snooty lines in Costelloesque stomper ‘Standing O’ – and there are now cracks appearing in the cracks of his voice. That suits him, the music and the band now they’re elder statesmen, careworn and stewed. Elsewhere he conjures some falsetto where ‘Whole Love’ rocks, but gently: ‘I know that I won’t be the last/Cold captain tied to the mast’.

The real ripper is ‘Born Alone’, where an excellent clipped guitar riff first screeches then pitches then mucks about then judders, but the real heart and soul is that extended closer. ‘One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)’ has something of Dylan’s ‘Buckets Of Rain’ or O’Rourke’s ‘Prelude To 110 Or 220’, drawn out but also economical – ‘Said it’s your God I don’t believe in/No, your Bible can’t be true/Knocked down by the long life/He cried, ‘I fear what waits for you” is a whole verse, wrapping a novel up in seconds. It’s all played out against a simple, repeated guitar signature that never gets tired and only takes a break for some jazzy, rolling piano after a full 10 minutes. It digs in.

While ‘The Whole Love’ doesn’t quite have the emotional reach or sheer cosmic rightness of ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’, nor the outrageous dynamics of ‘A Ghost Is Born’, somehow, drifting in their slipstream, it’s very nearly as satisfying. Bells, whistles and electronic washes aren’t the only things that make a rich listen – sometimes it’s enough just to stick around and pour out all that hard-won experience.

Tags: Wilco, Reviews, Album Reviews

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