Wilco, The Whole Love

Peter Blackstock

By Peter Blackstock

on 09.27.11 in Reviews

The Whole Love

Challenging their listeners and themselves

What to make of Wilco with an established lineup? The Whole Love marks three straight albums on which original members Jeff Tweedy and John Stirratt and 10-year veteran drummer Glenn Kotche have teamed with multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone, guitarist Nels Cline and keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen — an unprecedented run of stability for the band. Personnel evolution has been intertwined with Wilco’s ever-shifting sonic identity since its 1995 debut; now the challenge is to change from within. And there are new horizons here: The seven-minute leadoff track “Art of Almost” is a cacophonous diversion from the more conventional approach of the band’s last two albums, affirming Wilco’s continuing desire to challenge their listeners and themselves. Cline seems increasingly comfortable cutting loose within Tweedy’s song structures, blazing caustic vapor trails in “Dawned on Me” and “Born Alone,” while Sansone arranges swells of strings to deepen darkness of “Black Moon.” Everything is a prelude to the 12-minute closer “One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend),” an epic, elegiac tale about a father and son set to a recurring melodic phrase that ebbs and flows via graceful acoustic instrumentation as the story gradually unwinds. It may be the apex of Wilco’s career, a shining moment when the band’s artistic ambition becomes one with its instinctive musicality.