Is The Whole Love enjoying the quietest reception of a major, triumphant release in recent memory? The implications of this are far-reaching, given the glut of critics who had declared Wilco as wallowing in insipid middle-of-the-road waters. It would be easy to fathom the waves of disbelief if two years ago, you'd suggested Wilco would release an album that smoothly melded Being There, Summerteeth, and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
Fueled by the immutable law that there is genius in combining Jeff Tweedy, Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche, Wilco aims high. From the slow-burning cacophony of opener "Art of Almost" to the frangible beauty of closer "One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)," The Whole Love is sonically one of the year's most arresting albums. The watery, chiming atmospherics of "Sunloathe" are as enthralling as the found-sound bell collage at the end of charmer "Capitol City."
The Whole Love succeeds because of Wilco's prowess as a unit. The locked groove and piercing guitar of "Born Alone," the throbbing lurch of "I Might" and the shaggy grit of "Dawned on Me" highlight everything from Tweedy's lyrical acuity, to Cline's wizardly dexterity, to Kotche's masterful timekeeping.
Although the slight "Rising Red Lung" may be inessential, "One Sunday Morning" alone outranks the catalogs of lesser bands. It's a heartbreaking tune, gorgeously encapsulating clear-eyed pain and sadness throughout its rambling 12 minutes. The temerity of Wilco is amply, even deftly, on display throughout The Whole Love, but that would be an empty experiment or a nervous gambit without equally assured moments of hushed, subtle beauty.