Wilco's The Whole Love: A First Listen

Categories: First Listens


Wilco is a band that makes me hate indie rock fans. Not just because Jeff Tweedy wrote songs just fine before producer/sonic mastermind Jim O'Rourke came along, but because the fickle little bitches ran scurrying immediately after the band started guitar soloing -- sorry, "dad-rocking" -- again. Now they compare everything to A Ghost Is Born. Wilco (the Album), "boring"? That's a laugh. Just compare the frighteningly sculpted "Bull Black Nova" to token Born rock throw-out "I'm a Wheel." Assume that my thoughts on a Wilco record are about 180 degrees from what you've read about it. I was a big fan of the most recent Wilco (the Album), so maybe the band's hit its stride with this one. Let's have a listen.

Art of Almost
A walking drumbeat drops out after a minute and burbling sonics come in around Jeff Tweedy like Pink Floyd at their funkiest. Fuzz bass, synthetic thunder crashes, and various other dissonances tastefully decorate Tweedy's otherwise spare melody. But we're only three minutes in, which leaves plenty of time for a string section to swallow this up. This is the most I've ever heard bassist John Stirratt (fun fact: Wilco's only other constant besides Tweedy) shine on a Wilco song -- his groove carries a lot of the momentum. But then the song morphs again, around the five-minute mark, into something like Robert Fripp playing a punk song. Oh holy shit, at 6:10 they just rock out, guitars squealing and drums falling down stairs and all kinds of noisy shit more daring than the distant twinkle of musique concrete on "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," the band's last opener this daring. And then it ends. Bar's set high.

I Might
Stirratt's really owning this album so far. Tweedy's sticking to spare, short bursts of melody while shit just shifts around him, even though this has lots of call-response between sung lines and a recurring cute little organ figure. Plus glockenspiel, dirtbomb fuzz guitar, and Stirratt's excellent bass marching. This is very good for the band chemistry, which didn't carry Tweedy's least song-y songs too well on A Ghost Is Born.

A minute went by before I noticed this song was even playing. Kind of a psych-cabaret-Van Dyke Parks hybrid? Very slight melody, odd chords. Not my thing really, but if it's just an interlude between more stuff like the first two songs, I could grow to respect it in context. This song isn't improved by the rhythm section or George Harrison-isms when it "kicks in" near the end, either.

Dawned on Me
A folk-rocker that reminds me of Fruit Bats. But I really wish it was Fruit Bats. The catchy chorus is fun, and the song itself is constructed well -- makes a better single than "I Might" -- but something about Tweedy's stilted delivery never works for these mildly uptempo things. It's like if "War on War" was less dreamy and had whistling. On the other hand, this album's so band-oriented that Tweedy's mostly a ghost. Song grew on me by the end.

Black Moon
One of those "boring" latter-day Wilco songs. But it actually is kind of boring. Think Brightblack Morning Light with an ego and a budget, except one that doesn't turn into Spiritualized when you add those things. The strings, give me a break.

Born Alone
Another Stirratt joint, propelled by bass with a friendly enough tune that I suppose "dad-rock" is an acceptable description. Actually, this sounds a lot like Wilco's grand alt-country superiors Old 97's, down to Glenn Kotche's cute imitation of Phillip Peeples' propulsive drumming. And the hook is guitar noise! Dads like to make noise, too.

Open Mind
A swooning country ballad, this is Wilco's bread and butter, and already better than "Black Moon," if not quite "Jesus, Etc." (I do like some of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot). Great chord changes in the hook. Maybe a little too simple, but it's nice to hear simple with this band again. In fact, when's the last time they played a swooning country ballad? I sang along on the last refrain.

Capitol City
A shuffling period piece kinda, with the occasional techno-bloop. Like "Sunloathe," this is probably an expert rendition of music I'm both unfamiliar and uninterested in. It's tightly written, which is always a good thing, and it sounds like something from Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey, and Steve Wynn's underheard new band the Baseball Project.


My Voice Nation Help
Sort: Newest | Oldest

I couldn't agree less with most of your summary here.  Funny how people can listen to the same record and hear totally different things I guess.  Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is one of, if not THE, finest record of the 2000s in my opinion.  Wilco (The album) is average save for One Wing and Bull Black Nova.


I think--and I know my opinion won't change yours--that the finale of YHF was one of the best end credits in recent memory (unless, of course, it was only listened to once). Pot Kettle Black, Poor Places and Reservations bad songs? Uh, sure...Take Wilco (the Album)'s last three songs...wait, what were they again? To my ears, they were not memorable in the least. This album is very understated and one listen simply won't do. Maybe don't write a first impressions article; first impressions don't stick. I think it is very poor practice to write "first impressions" articles because first listens don't seep into your skull the way the tenth or twentieth listens do. I understand that reviewing albums right away probably seemed like a good idea in this internet age of I-want-results-and-I-want-results-now, but it wasn't, because to devoted album listeners, listening still hasn't changed. Don't change your listening methods, change your reviewing methods. My humble opinion. God bless. By the way, I enjoyed your hurried writing style. It seemed very genuine that you really were really trying to take it all in, if that is any consolation.

Now Trending

From the Vault



San Francisco Event Tickets
©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.