Wilco's eighth studio album The Whole Love finds Jeff Tweedy's band returning to more experimental material. Where their previous eponymous record felt strictly upbeat, The Whole Love is a little more adventurous in its scope and emotional palate. That's no bad thing with all involved being able to flex their creative muscles over the course of 12 diverse tracks.
While repeated listens do benefit the experience here, on initial inspection The Whole Love shares some synergy with Wilco's standout album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Both place their more experimental leanings upfront on the opening track and then relax into more conventional, but nonetheless rewarding, material. 'Art Of Almost' is brooding and at times almost apocalyptic in musical tone. A funky bassline underpins a lyrically sparse song that employs loops and electronic techniques along with a string section to create a strangely ominous groove. As it thunders through its seven minute running time, guitars and drums are introduced to bring the proceedings to an uncharacteristically speedy crescendo of noise.
Lead single 'I Might' follows with an infectiously catchy indie guitar stomp backed with what appears to be the type of organ you'd hear in some American sporting arenas. It's the kind of song that shows Tweedy's continual evolution as a songwriter, treading a thin line between sounding carefree and reflective. A perfect example of this is the chorus of playful lyrics: "It's alright, you won't set the kids on fire, oh but I might". Tweedy's obviously not being literal, but it's faintly confrontational and tinged with the bravado of performing to a crowd.
Elsewhere highlights include the melancholic 'Sunloathe', the love song with a twist 'Dawned On Me' ("Sometimes I can't believe how dark you can be"), and the laid-back country vibe of 'Open Mind'. Tweedy's lyrics are central to the appeal of much of the material here, with intelligent insights rewarding listeners over time. 'Capitol City' meanwhile seems at first to be a twee and idealised throwback to the 1950's ("Secretaries at the hot dog vendors, cabs honk at the bicycle messengers".), but reveals itself to be a bittersweet break up song ("You wouldn't like it here, you should stay right there".) Slide guitars punctuate the jaunty pop before the song fades to cathedral bells leaving the listener to make their own conclusions to the narrative.
The final track, 'One Sunday Morning (Song For June Smiley's Boyfriend)' bookends the record well, it's the only other song that along with the opener is allowed to develop over a period longer than 4 minutes. However this is a laid back alternative country reflection on family relationships with added religious imagery for good measure. It meanders along, but compellingly so, with 12 minutes passing far too quickly. 'One Sunday Morning' is also so far away from the electronic tendencies of 'Art Of Almost' that it highlights the musical journey that The Whole Love takes, without any of the steps in between feeling out of place.
While The Whole Love may take some time to burrow into your head, it certainly stays there. Fans may not hold it in the same regard as some other Wilco albums yet, but I'm willing to bet that will change over time.