BEST OF 2011: 9. Wilco – The Whole Love

Having mellowed in recent years, this eighth studio outing represented something of a rebirth. 2007’s ‘Sky Blue Sky’ was a lush and mature record which captured a band with nothing to prove and a confidence born of having made it through trickier times. Unfortunately, such confidence resulted in the somewhat undercooked and surprisingly forgettable ‘Wilco (The Album)’ in 2009. I feared that this was it: the start of the slow descent into mediocrity and middle aged chug. I have had the error of my ways thoroughly highlighted by both this record and their recent UK tour supporting it. This is as strong an album as Wilco have ever put out, just without the drama of being dropped or filmed dramatically in black and white.

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Inhabiting a world somewhere between the emphatic organ-chug of prime Costello which puts in a performance on the excellent first single ‘I Might’, and the more delicate moments of ‘The White Album‘, classic hooks and sing-song choruses are prominent. ‘The Whole Love’ is a nuanced record which highlights musicians with a stunning grasp of melody and a lyricist no longer at war with himself. Less polished and with a real warmth so lacking on their last outing, this is nevertheless an album which asserts its presence from the off.

Album opener ‘Art Of Almost’ emerges from a squall of static into something urgent and convulsing, before finally capitulating to its own spit and swagger seven minutes later. Meanwhile, ensuring that the album’s conclusion is no less stunning than its start,  the twelve-minute ‘One Sunday Morning’ (fourteen if you go for the double vinyl) is a lolling, meditative conclusion unlike anything the band has previously recorded. It is plucked into life, the most delicate touches of piano initially underscoring it, before Tweedy appears, seemingly pressed up close to the microphone, gently intoning the vocal. It never gets any more energetic, despite a little xylophone here and the odd floating drone of electric guitar, but that’s not to say it isn’t one of the most beautiful things the band have ever done. Considering its length, the time flies and the utterly gorgeous musical interplay is an absolute joy to take in, time and again.

And that’s without mentioning stone cold classics like the title track, ‘Sunloathe’ and ‘Capitol City’. Having forged a reputation for making sonically adventurous albums only to find aural contentment and a certain cosiness, they appeared to have commenced the ploughing of a particular furrow. However, as demonstrated by their clear enjoyment during an incendiary live show I saw several months ago, they are very much back in the game. Put simply, this isn’t just an excellent addition to the record collection of a Wilco fan, it’s a remarkable record full stop.

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