Wilco’s new album, The Whole Love, is an experimental alternative indie folk rock electronic amalgamation that sounds like an incoherent failure of their 2001 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. However, newer Wilco albums, as well as experimental albums in general, will be seen as failures when compared to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (one of very few albums to receive a perfect ten out of ten from Pitchfork). Although many parts of The Whole Love are excellent, Wilco strives for too much in this experiment. The Whole Love is the first album Wilco has released on their own label, dBpm, and so one might say that album’s scattered and inconsistent feel is Wilco’s way of emphasizing their newly-acquired artistic independence. However, the album feels too all over the place. Some of it’s great; some of it’s garbage.
The opening track on the album, “Art of Almost,” is bizarre and feels somewhat scary due to the downbeat and overused electronic sounds. The synthesizers and sound effects are weird and out of place when mixed with the rest of Wilco’s alternative rock tones. But the most disappointing thing is that even with this superfluous and conflicting noise, the song still feels weak. The first four songs on the album feel causal and bland, like Wilco has lost the spark that has been clearly audible in past albums. They are all just very forgettable. Perhaps now that they have their own label, singer Jeff Tweedy has lost some of his drive.
Although both “Black Moon” and “Born Alone” work as individual songs, it seems odd to pair these sonically disparate tracks back to back. “Black Moon” marks a change in the album: it’s soft and soothing with very dark undertones. The music finally helps to convey some of what Tweedy is trying to communicate with his lyrics. “Born Alone,” the next track, is upbeat in tone, but filled with lyrics such as, “My eyes deceiving glory/I was born to die alone.” The music plays on for a minute after Tweedy stops singing, but then slowly dies out, reflecting Tweedy’s fear of a meaningless fade out from life, as alone as when he came into the world.
By far the worst song on the album is “Open Mind.” Tweedy treats his audience like a bunch of five-year-olds as he preaches his simplistic and tolerant society filled with open minds. Perhaps there is a deeper, darker message that I’m not getting, but it seems a stark contrast to the depressing ruminations of death and loneliness that Tweedy admits to feeling throughout the rest of the album.
“Capital City” is a stream-of-consciousness ramble about confused feelings of love and completeness versus isolation and heartbreak. The strange city noises that seem to appear randomly disjoint the song, making it sound and feel like a live recording half of the time. Although the noises are supposed to represent city noises, the concept worked much better in theory than in practice. The church bells that close the song seem to come out of nowhere and add nothing worthwhile to the inconsistent mixture of music and noise.
The rest of the album, however, is filled with lyrics that often sound like poetry and, for the most part, fairly cohesive music. If you listen closely, you can still hear some bizarre guitar or synth noises in the background, but they stay in the background.
If you’re looking to listen to one song off the album, I’d recommend either “Rising Red Lung” or the 12-minute-long album ender entitled “One Sunday Morning.” The simple, stripped-down guitar at the beginning of “Rising Red Lung” works well with the poetic and heavyhearted lyrics, such as, “The melody’s a mistake/Embrace at the wake/How long does it take for us to know.” Although the song builds up a little in the end, it stays soft and sweet and makes you lose yourself in your own train of thought. Although a few minutes too long, “One Sunday Morning” is a great end to the album. Tweedy’s lyrics are bogged down with many religious references, but the song still feels very human and relatable. With the soft guitar, piano, and percussion, Tweedy’s lyrics could truly affect me during and after listening to the track in a way that the raucous and eerie beginning of the album could not. Once the vocals ended, the track kind of fell apart for me, but it’s excellent up until the eight-minute mark.
I give Wilco’s The Whole Love a 6/10. There are some great songs on it, but the album just does not work as a whole.