Music Monday: “The Whole Love” (Review)

Ed. Note: This is the only post I’m putting up this week; I’m taking the rest of the week off due to the five-day weekend Hunter’s giving us for Rosh Hashanah (Happy New Year 5772, everybody!). The blog will return in its usual format next week, with another edition of the Thursday Trivia Podcast on Defunct Airlines. (Here’s the last podcast if you missed it.)

To be honest, I think Wilco (The Album) is vastly underrated. Sure, it’s not their best work – asking even a high-caliber band to produce something even on par with 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is asking far too much – but it was another “beautiful mess” type of amalgam of genres and styles, not unlike 2004’s Grammy-winning A Ghost Is Born, that showed where the band was and where they are now; a State of the Band, if you will. It produced some great tunes in “Bull Black Nova,” “One Wing,” and “Everlasting Everything,” just to name a few, and ultimately proved as at least a partial rebound from the mostly same-y sounding Sky Blue Sky.

And yet it’s been trashed as one of the worst albums in Wilco’s oeuvre by fans and critics alike. The Whole Love represents a chance to right that ship – and mostly, it’s succeeded. The album begins with “Art of Almost,” a track that sounds, to my ears, like nothing else Wilco’s ever recorded:

Starting on that good note, the album continues with their rollicking second track (and first single off the album), “I Might.” Those two tracks serve as a good point and counterpoint as the album itself teeters between much-deserved happiness and classic Wilco-esque angst. The thing is, though, that some of the angsty tracks – “Sunloathe” and “Rising Red Lung,” particularly – aren’t particularly memorable (the same can and has been said for most of Sky Blue Sky). Luckily, this represents the minority.

There are some truly great songs on the album – “Born Alone” and “Standing O” have already seemed to find their niche in the Wilco catalogue, and the title track will invariably become fodder for encores for multitudes of concerts to come – but the two real masterpieces serve as bookends to the album, the aforementioned “Art of Almost” and “One Sunday Morning,” a soft-spoken twelve-minute ballad that really reconfirms in my mind that Wilco is very good at final tracks on their albums.

In any case, The Whole Love is not and probably will never be their greatest work. Does it really have to be, though? It’s certainly their best album since A Ghost Is Born, and more importantly, it’s something different – a lot of different things in itself, really – that, like the much-maligned Wilco (The Album) is a sign of where they are and where they’ve been – and maybe a peek at where Wilco is about to go.

The Whole Love will be released tomorrow, but you can listen to it in its entirety on NPR Music.

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