Wilco-The Whole Love (First Impressions)

 As with any Wilco record, it’s almost impossible for me to really make a judgement on the music until I hear it live. I kinda hated Sky Blue Sky until I saw the band perform in Davenport. The music takes on a completely different feeling when it’s being played right in front of you. Even the more mundane parts of Wilco (The Album) come across well when Jeff Tweedy is singing twenty feet away.

Anyone who loves Wilco knows that starting yesterday at noon, the band streamed The Whole Love in it’s entirety. I’ve listened to it a bunch of times, and I think I’m ready to tell you my initial reaction:

The Whole Love is a really amazing record for about half the time, and a so-so record the other half. The opening song, “Art of Almost,” is exactly what I was looking for on this new release-a return to sonically interesting rock music that explores every corner of the songs. We get that on a couple others as well, but this first track is the best of that sort.

Much of the record is wrestling with the same issues the previous two did-the songs just aren’t up to the potential we all know EVERY Wilco song has. Tweedy seems to be happy sticking with the 70’s AM radio folkiness that plagued Wilco (The Album). Nels Cline explodes when he’s given the opportunity, but spends much of the time buried in the background.

One song that I really like is “Open Mind.” It’s a slow ballad, and I originally heard it at the Rahm Emanuel fundraiser we hit way back in January. That performance by Jeff, and this song in particular, really reminded me why I love Wilco so much. It’s a beautiful, slow almost-country song that I could listen to all day. Of the 12 songs on The Whole Love, this one is probably the best, lyrically.

I could base my whole existence

upon the cherry strings of your gold hair

I would ask, almost insist

upon treating you kind and fair

Oh I could only dream of the dreams we’d have

our hearts would be entwined

if you would let me be the one

to open up your mind

The problem, I think, is that there is too much balance. Like they recorded a bunch of songs and said, “Ok…we have a fast rockin song here, so let’s slow it down on the next one. This one’s kinda mid-tempo, so let’s do another one like that.” It’s infuriating, because it feels like there was some compromising done that hinders the record. This is the first on Wilco’s new label they’ve created for themselves, so I find it interesting that this is the creative approach they’ve taken.

Here is a list of the good stuff: “Art of Almost,” “I Might,” Dawned On Me,” “Open Your Mind,” “Standing O,” “Rising Red Lung,” and “One Sunday Morning.”

The not so good: “Black Moon,” “Capitol City,” “The Whole Love,” “Born Alone,” and “Sunloathe.”

So the good outweighs the bad by a slight margin. Again, this will all change after I hear the songs live on October 5th in Madison. I think this will be the sixth time we’ve seen the band, and I’ve never been disappointed with a live show, so I’m guessing I’ll like these songs a lot more afterward.

13 thoughts on “Wilco-The Whole Love (First Impressions)

  1. It genuinely pains me to say it gang but Tweedy has now officially become what he admittedly most loathed for most of his musical life: contemporary adult rock (the volkswagen ads a few yrs ago were the beginning of the final slide to this genre). He can throw is a noisy “experimental” opening track but the truth can’t be hidden for long. You can like it or not like it but volkswagen rock it most certainly is.

    For me that’s sad considering the staggering musical force he used to be from Uncle Tupelo through Golden Smog and the early to mid Wilco years. But of course I know you can’t rate music objectively, it is purely subjective opinion, etc etc., and I’m sure there will plenty of “fans” who will love listening to this new one while smugly driving to your corporate jobs in your new luxury sedans (sorry, couldn’t help it).

    You can begin dismissing my comments…wait for it….now.

    1. I won’t be dismissive at all, Jim. Everyone gets their opinion here. I don’t agree with you, but I can definitely see where you’re coming from. I give Tweedy the benefit of the doubt. I think there’s a decent mix on the new record, and everything changes during the live shows. I went ahead and pre-ordered the vinyl bundle. Can’t wait to get it.

  2. This is easily Wilco’s best record since the utterly fabulous “A Ghost Is Born.”

    I do not understand how any review — even a preliminary review — of this excellent record could neglect describing the musically and lyrically gorgeous album closing “One Sunday Morning.”

    I love it when Nels Cline lets it rip and shred like he does on “The Art of Almost” (or “Impossible Germany,” etc.), but I think this record places him in the right place for a Wilco record. Too much Nels Cline ripping and shredding is just…too much.

    I also agree with the other commenters that “Born Alone” is great. “Sunloathe” is also a great, dreamy song that is well sequenced.

  3. I didn’t know that Wilco played an Emmanuel fundraiser, I’d think they’d be able to see through his carpet-bagging, Daley-lite and (perhaps most egregiously) cubs fan facade.

    I generally agree with you about the album.

    1. It was just Tweedy solo at the fundraiser, with JC Brooks and The Uptown Sound opening. While we may not agree politically, I thank you for reading and appreciate your comment.

  4. I think it’s important to ask Josh (before us wilco fans start with the pitchforks and such) how MANY times did you listen to it?

    I’m now on my 6th try in the last 24 hours (I have managed to live a full life and accomplish stuff in the process 😉 ) As you mentioned yourself they are VERY different live and I am sure you’d agree that MAYBE your review might be a little premature….

    I went back and just listened to your SO-SO songs to give myself some perspective on your review……

    Black Moon – The dicotemy between the picking and the waves of whatever come into scene make this a track I want to see live for sure “Danced above the waves…. never stopped crawling”

    Born Alone – I really liked the bouncy nature of this tune….. the lyrics are a little hard to understand but again right around the 1 minute mark when things explode make me think this will be a rocker live….

    Sunloathe – I agree it’s a little slow especially given the placement (could have been put later in the record) but there’s so much noise in the atmosphere of this song that I can’t help but AGAIN think it’ll be very cool live….. Around the 1 minute mark it made me conjure feelings of the White Album with just stuff everywhere….. and per Wilco…. Silence thereafter….. Very cool trippy song IMO. Lots going on

    Capitol City – How could you not like this? It’s very B-Side ish and bouncy…. but the lyrics in addition with the bells and rising synth noises makes me think of Wilco past…. I can just see Jeff bouncing around on stage to this one.

    Overall I appreciate your review, but I am rather curious how many times you listened to it before you started typing 🙂

    Thank you regardless, always good to hear others opinion.

    -Zac

    1. Thanks for your well-thought out comment, Zac. I wanna say I started writing on the fourth time through the record, and it was playing a fifth time as I typed. I point out in the title of the post, and again in the body of the post, that these are first impressions. I absolutely agree with this being premature. The record doesn’t come out for another three weeks, and we only had 24 hours to hear it. Everything changes with Wilco live. I remember after Sky Blue Sky came out, I freaking loved the first few tracks, but I hated Side With The Seeds. Then I saw them perform the album live, and it completely changed my perspective. I imagine the same thing will happen with these. And I should also point out that a so-so song for Wilco is still better than 95% of other music out there. I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I’m not a Wilco fan..read through my posts over the last year, and you’ll see that I mention Wilco, and my undying love for them, ad nauseam.
      Black Moon I just wasn’t feeling at all. And maybe it was just becuase I was listening with such urgency, but it didn’t draw me in. Born Alone I thought was ok, and maybe it’s because of the lyrical difficulty that I didn’t think it was great. Again, in a live setting I’m sure it will be better. Also, with more repeat listens I’ll be able to decipher more of the words and it will attach itself to my brain a bit more.
      Sunloathe I just got lost in a bit, but nothing ever progressed for me. A little suspended animation. I do get your White Album reference, though. And I actually had some thoughts about that album throughout my listening to TWL.
      Capitol City I just really didn’t care for. I do think it will be fun live, kind of in the same way I didn’t really love Kidsmoke on the record, but I love it live. That’s one of the reasons I think Kicking Televisions is one of the best live records ever made. Wilco is such an amazing live band that any time you can capture some of that, it’s gonna be brilliant.
      So, again. This review is by no means my final thoughts on The Whole Love. We had a short time to listen to it, and these were my impressions formed as I was listening. Maybe sometime after the 27th I will revisit my initial reactions and do an update with deeper thoughts.
      And please don’t come after me with pitchforks. If you’re gonna come after me, please do so with choc-o-diles.

  5. Adam,
    It is very subjective depending on the listener. It’s not that I think either of those songs are bad, they just didn’t hit me the same as the ones I listed as good. Likewise, someone may think “Open Your Mind” is totally superlame, while I find it quite amazing. That said, even a not-so-good WIlco song is better than 90% of the good songs by other bands. And as I mentioned in the post, this will all change once I’ve heard them performed live (on October 5th in Madison). I will say that of the tracks I listed in the second tier, “Born Alone” is the best of them. I’m still kind of on the fence about that one, and when I’m on the fence, I tend to round down rather than up.
    Anyway, disagreements like this are what music is all about. Thanks for reading! I hope you come back and check us out again.

  6. How could you possibly list “Capitol City” and “Born Alone” as the “not-so-good” tracks? Those songs are incredible. “Capitol City” could have been on “Being There” or “Summerteeth” and “Born Alone” is straight-up brilliant. To each their own, I suppose. No accounting for taste. I think it’s the best record they’ve made since “YHF” and “Summerteeth”:.