Wilco – The Whole Love (dBpm)

By Mark Youll | 11th October, 2011 | album reviews |

Wilco

The Whole World

Record label: dBpm

Verdict: ****

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Wilco have never been one for grabbing commercial opportunity by the ears. Even back in 2002, and the release of their brittle pop masterpiece LP Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, their big break may have been sitting under their very noses, weaving its way through some of the album’s fattest hooks and most heartfelt lyrics to date, before splashing into the tide of rave reviews that followed, all of them pretty much highlighting the fact that Wilco had returned with an album of songs that could be pitched a lot further than their comfy ‘indie’ confines.

Despite Yankee denting the Billboard Top 30 back in 2002, and Rolling Stone magazine’s fervour for it’s lofty Lo-Fi ambitions when they dubbed it “Radiohead’s Kid A dressed in flannel and cow pie” - Wilco’s stab at making it past the indie gates to progress to stadium rock star-types, was hampered by personnel rifts and shifts (famously documented in the band’s revealing I Am Trying To Break Your Heart flick) and what would their almost forgettable follow-up record – the aptly-titled A Ghost is Born – which despite bagging the band a Grammy two years later, single-handedly triggered a run of hot and cold releases that at best, has kept the hearts of their alt-country collective a flutter.

“a band once again zapped of their commitments to producing radio-friendly rock and back to throwing out some stirring sonic ideas again.”

And so, because it’s nearly ten years on from the Yankee elpee, and six more long-players down the road for a band that may well have ditched their desire to be big stars (or was that Big Star ?) without fully shedding their skins of conventionality (they still frequent the charts with ‘conservative’ rock albums), it comes as a bolt from the blue to have Wilco reappear amidst the crackling hum of feedback, a Stooges sample, a muddied drum loop, some kooky vocals and whatever else lurks within in Art of Almost and indeed this new album by these veteran rockists.

Surprisingly elected as the album’s lead single, the rattling acoustic stomp of I might, bruised by fuzzy bass and an eerie Doors-like organ figure, fails to find its feet amongst some of the punchier pop on offer here, not to mention serve its purpose as the album’s heady taster. More-suited suggestions point to the bolshie Dawned on Me or the summery swing of Borne Alone, an uncanny take on Pavement before its bubblegum charm is burst by some achromatic fretwork and a wash of hissing cymbals that blur the song’s menacing brass arrangement.

If there is to be any knit picking – especially around those of us that melt under such delicate circumstances – it would point to how much devotion for sleepy ballads this album holds. In fairness, it’s usually here, within tinkling melancholies such as Sunloathe, Red Rising, the drawn-out One Sunday Morning or wired wordplay of Open Mind – “I would throw myself underneath the wheels of any train of thought, running off the rails or sail you through the rouge waves of your brain” – that Tweedy truly excels as the group’s chief creative.

Squeezed between the ballads and eschewing such sentiment, the jazzy vaudeville of Capitol City and new waver Standing O disclose more sundry sides of the band , the latter, initiated by a foray of punk chords, rolls forward aloft thumping soul drumming and whistling Farfisa pianos , sounding not unlike an open invitation for a 70s-era Elvis Costello to croon over.

It’s this nervy, coalition of songs, sounds and oddball lyricism that not only reflects where and what scored Yankee big points, but also sews up their intentions for the bulk of the material here. The Whole Love is Wilco back top their unconventional best, a band once again zapped of their commitments to producing radio-friendly rock and – to zero back in on the widely finale of Art of Almost and it’s trail of messy, haphazard guitar soloing – back to throwing out some stirring sonic ideas again.

Mark Youll