The Whole Love
It's as if the last two albums never happened. Ever since Jeff Tweedy became stable, when he kicked his painkiller addiction and decreased his dependence on cigarettes, which bassist John Stirratt once said increased the man's focus, Wilco has suffered. Half of 2007's breezy Sky Blue Sky is good, but there were too many duds on that straightforward effort ("Hate It Here" might be the band's worst song) to consider it essential, while 2009's Wilco (The Album) tried to pass off cheeky as clever, and failed.
The Whole Love begins with "Art of Almost," the band's most aggressive song in years (the first word: "no"), which begins with a twitchy groove before becoming a polyrhythmic roar. It's similar, in both theme and structure, to one of Wilco's best tracks, "Misunderstood," and it allows Nels Cline to unleash one of his patented guitar freak-outs. Too often in the past, he's been restrained (Sky Blue Sky's biggest offense), but he's in top form here, pushing his sound as far as it can go, while drummer Glenn Kotche races beside him.
There's nothing quite like "Almost" elsewhere on the self-produced Whole Love, and that allows every member of the group to highlight what they do best, from Mikael Jorgenson's fuzzy organ in "I Might," which ends with a clear sample of the Stooges' "TV Eye," to Stirratt's rollicking bassline on the title track. Closer "One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)," a heartfelt 12-minute narrative in which Tweedy ruminates on the time he had a conversation with the boyfriend of the A Thousand Acres author, is accompanied by gorgeous flourishes from Kotche, who does double duty pitter-pattering on the drums and tapping the xylophone.
Tweedy sounds invigorated and on a mission, too, wanting to shed the Dad Rock label that's been tagged to Wilco for years. In "Sunloathe," he sings, "I don't want to lose this fight," and later on the album, "I was born to die alone." That's preferable to "Wilco will love you, baby" any day.